Captain Tallisha Harden says dynamic halves duo Simone Smith and Jenni-Sue Hoepper will provide the voice and direction for the Indigenous All Stars to combat a Maori All Stars squad boasting enormous power and fitness gains.
While the Indigenous women showed tremendous spirit and courage to hold on for an 8-4 defeat last year despite making over 100 more tackles than the Maoris, Harden said the new halves would give their team direction and spark their attack.
“I definitely think having girls like Jenni-Sue (Hoepper) and Simone Smith back in the side this year, two halves there for us who are really dynamic, really electric and they’re both really good talkers as well,” Harden said.
“That has been a big thing for us is having two kind of chief playmakers who take over and direct us around the park.
“Definitely Jenni-Sue is taking that role in front of the pack and Simone who is probably one of the best halfbacks in the game on her day.
“To have those two in the team will hold us in good stead for Saturday and it’s just nice to see them get an opportunity again to wear the jersey.”
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Indigenous women’s coach Ben Jeffries said last year’s defensive effort was a feat of great pride for the team but he hoped tomorrow’s clash would enable the women to showcase their attacking skills.
“I would love to see both sides throw the ball around a bit more,” Jeffries said.
“Last year was a pretty good defensive effort by the Indigenous girls … I think the Maoris had 17 extra sets so to be 8-4 down I thought that was something to be pretty proud of.
“I’d love to see a bit more open game with both sides hopefully we can do that.”
Maoris coach Rusty Matua warned, however, that his team was far from its best last year and a squad camp in New Zealand had not only brought his women closer together but led to huge fitness gains for their powerful pack of forwards.
“We were very happy that we won but we also felt that we could have played better,” Matua said.
“That’s been a big focus from the start of our preparation and a big thing for us also was getting our fitness back up.
“Our forward pack was really good last year but they’ve all come back fitter and more determined and more focused on being better as well.
“We were lucky enough to have our girls based in Australia come back for a camp in New Zealand which is something we didn’t have last year. So having that opportunity this year will be beneficial for our team.”
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Skipper Crystal Rota said she was excited to see how the fitness gains of their front-rowers transferred into a full rugby league game.
“To be honest everyone has been training really well but our props are definitely in a lot better shape this year,” Rota said.
“From the start of our prep to see how far they’ve come to today has just blown me away, the girls are super fit.
“I’m really excited to see what they can pull out, the props. We always knew they were powerful and strong runners but they sort of lacked a bit of fitness last year so I’m excited in my teammates who are props and seeing how they go tomorrow.”
Get your tickets to see the best of the NRL’s Indigenous and Mãori players going head to head at Cbus Super Stadium on February 22