Kiwi Ferns primed to go the distance
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.’’
Laura Mariu, third left, poses with her fellow captains at the launch of the 2017 Women’s Rugby League World Cup.