Kiwi Ferns primed to go the dis­tance

The Dominion Post - - Sport - MARVIN FRANCE

It is very much a squad men­tal­ity for the Kiwi Ferns as they be­gin their quest to re­claim the Women’s Rugby League World Cup crown.

New Zealand kick off their cam­paign against Canada in Syd­ney today, one of five games they will have to play in the space of just 17 days if they are to win back the ti­tle they lost to Aus­tralia four years ago.

It’s a gru­elling sched­ule that is sure to test the depth of Tony Ben­son’s 24-strong squad. Not that you will hear any com­plaints from the play­ers, though, who are well versed to the short turn­arounds they have to over­come.

‘‘We’re used to it,’’ Kiwi Ferns cap­tain Laura Mariu told Stuff as she pre­pared for her fifth World Cup. ‘‘We’ve put in the hard yards. In the com­pe­ti­tions back here, like our na­tion­als, we could be play­ing three or four games in one day.

‘‘I don’t re­ally see it as an is­sue, with the op­por­tu­ni­ties that we’ve been given you just take it with two hands and roll with it.’’

As well as the Cana­di­ans, the Kiwi Ferns play pool matches against Cook Is­lands on Sun­day and Pa­pua New Guinea next Wednesday, all at Syd­ney’s South­ern Cross Group Sta­dium.

The semi­fi­nals take place on November in 26 with the fi­nal played prior to men’s de­cider in Bris­bane on De­cem­ber 2.

The com­pact draw is sim­i­lar to what the Black Ferns went through on their way to win­ning the Rugby World Cup in Ire­land ear­lier this year.

But while the women’s rugby league show­piece has come a long way from the days where play­ers had to pay their own way to get there, it does highlight the in­equal­i­ties that ex­ist with their male coun­ter­parts, who play a max­i­mum of six games over five weeks in their re­spec­tive tour­na­ment.

‘‘I know that these girls have trained as of­ten and as much as the men,’’ said Ben­son.

‘‘The men have the ad­van­tage of when they’re not train­ing they get a rest, but these ladies have to work and run their fam­i­lies at the same time. But I’ve never had any player moan about too much train­ing or too much work. if any­thing they’ve said we’ve been a bit soft on them.

‘‘The train­ing and the con­di­tion­ing is equal, what we’ve got to get now is the fi­nan­cial re­ward and the rest equal and then we’ve got a pretty close game.’’

Af­ter win­ning the first three world cups, New Zealand’s stran­gle­hold over the in­ter­na­tional game was fi­nally bro­ken in 2013 at the hands of the Aussies.

Hav­ing white­washed the Kiwi Ferns at the Auck­land Nines and re­peated that suc­cess at the An­zac test in May, the Jil­la­roos are favoured to go back-to-back on home soil.

But af­ter an in­tense se­lec­tion process, which for the first time in­cluded play­ers based in Aus­tralia, Ben­son is con­fi­dent they have the tal­ent and depth to over­come any team.

‘‘Nor­mally you’d have 13 or 14 top play­ers you couldn’t do with­out and the oth­ers would make up the num­bers. Well, we’ve def­i­nitely got two teams there that we wouldn’t no­tice the dif­fer­ence if one was miss­ing.’’

As for the opener, Canada shape as an un­known quan­tity head­ing into their first World Cup.

This time last year the Ravens did not even ex­ist. But with the squad pre­dom­i­nantly made up of rugby union con­verts, Mariu says that makes them a tricky side to pre­pare for.

‘‘I don’t re­ally know what to ex­pect but if they are rugby play­ers I’m as­sum­ing they will be pretty fit, run pretty hard and play with a lot of pas­sion.’’

PHOTO: GREGG PORTEOUS/NRL PHOTOS

Laura Mariu, third left, poses with her fel­low cap­tains at the launch of the 2017 Women’s Rugby League World Cup.

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