They are at very different stages of their development on the international scene, but both the Kiwi Ferns and Mate Ma’a Tonga women’s team will be using Saturday’s Test in Auckland as an opportunity to set a platform for the future.
New Zealand will blood four new players in the one-off match at Mount Smart Stadium, while Tonga are looking to build a core group who can take them into the next World Cup cycle.
New Zealand lock Georgia Hale said this week is an opportunity to learn from the vast experience brought into camp by the likes of Brisbane NRLW forward Roxy Murdoch, who spent time in the England women’s rugby league squad, and Australia sevens Olympic gold medallist Amy Turner.
“Between Roxy, Way Way (Turner) and Katelyn (Vaha’akolo) coming over from rugby union, and even Rae Rae (Raecene McGregor) and Mya (Hill-Moana) coming hot out of an NRLW Grand Final victory with the Roosters, there are a lot of different backgrounds within our group,” Hale told NRL.com.
“It’s really exciting to see what they are going to bring into this space.
All of these experiences add a lot to our campaign and it’s about utilising what we have got within.Georgia Hale
Kiwi Ferns coach Ricky Henry is welcoming the player feedback and said Turner, who at 38 was a key player for the Broncos in the NRLW this year, has been particularly valuable in camp.
“The team sort of buys in when it’s player driven, so I really encourage us to have that culture within our group,” Henry said.
“Amy has been in some systems which have been awesome and she’s come into camp and really helped out our younger ladies and chipped in around recovery, eating well and preparing well.”
Match: Kiwi Ferns v Mate Ma'a Tonga
Round 1 -
Mate Ma'a Tonga
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
For Tonga meanwhile the vision is longer term.
Having not qualified for this year’s World Cup in England, the game against the Kiwi Ferns will likely be their biggest, and perhaps only, game in 2022 and coach Milton Dymock said it’s an important first step for them.
“It’s big picture stuff for us. We start here and hopefully move forward to qualify for the next World Cup,” he said.
“There is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to excel in future games.
“It’s been very interesting to see girls understand their heritage and where they have come from.”
Dymock, meanwhile, hopes captain Lavinia Tauhalaliku’s decision to represent Tonga rather than New Zealand, who she played a lone Test for in 2020, will help encourage more players to don the red jersey.
Test match game-breakers
“Everyone can connect to ‘Nia’, so if she can bring more people in to play that will be enormous for us,” Dymock said.
“It came down to her and what she thought she wanted to do. We made sure there was no pressure on any of the girls around who they wanted to play for.”
The last match Tonga played was a 66-8 drubbing of Niue, with twins Maatuleio and Noia Fotu-Moala the only players from that match who have been included in the 20-strong squad to face New Zealand.