Ferns Call-ups Highlight Women’s League’s Progress in Canterbury
It’s been a watershed week for women’s rugby league in Canterbury, with two local players named in New Zealand’s squad to take on Australia in Canberra on Friday, May 5.
Papanui Tigers duo Bunty Kuruwaka-Crowe and Corrina Whiley have earned maiden Kiwi Ferns call-ups for the Anzac Test clash with their archrivals, the Jillaroos. Meanwhile, the coach of the Canterbury Women’s team, Michael Linton, will take up an assistant role alongside new Kiwi Ferns head coach Tony Benson.
The GIO Stadium match is billed as a double-header with the Kiwis v Kangaroos Test showdown, with trans-Tasman women’s competition getting a major shot in the arm via the three-match series staged at the last three Auckland Nines, and increased interest and coverage of 13-a-side Tests.
“(I’m) super proud,” Linton said. “To see the work they’ve put in around improving their game and focussing on the feedback they’ve been given, it’s all come into place.”
“I thought they were a strong chance (of being selected). Having spoken with Tony (Benson), the head coach, there are a few work-ons for them, but they managed to go back and focus hard on those improvements.
“Seeing that they were so keen to improve is what got them their spots effectively – they’ve shown they’re willing to do the work necessary and put in, and to take that opportunity.”
While the final line-up is yet to be decided from the 18-person squad, Kuruwaka-Crowe is expected to feature in the front-row rotation, while Whiley is a specialist centre. Linton has a huge wrap on both players.
“Her energy and enthusiasm – she can’t help herself but get involved,” he said of Kuruwaka-Crowe, who has been in Linton’s Canterbury side for the past two seasons.
“She’s always in the thick of everything and she definitely inspires teammates around her with how hard she works.”
“She’s always trying to involve herself in some way, and her teammates notice that. You can’t keep her quiet.”
“She’s not the biggest player, but pound for pound – she doesn’t take a backwards step.
“It’s a good thing for those girls that are perhaps lacking a bit of confidence, they can follow Bunty’s lead and they’d be doing well.”
Whiley has only been on the provincial rep scene since last year, but Linton praised her all-round ability out wide.
“Corrina’s got a really good understanding of the game and what she can bring to it, just knowing what her strengths are and using those for the better of the team.
“She’s really strong defensively, always makes strong tackles on her opposites, (while also) knowing the lines and holes to run.”
Kuruwaka-Crowe and Whiley are believed to be the first Canterbury-based Kiwi Ferns reps since another Papanui product, Alisha Moses, who earned her first call-up as a teenager for the 2008 World Cup.
Women’s rugby league made big strides in the region 2016 with playing numbers on the rise and the Canterbury side finishing third in the national championship. The Ferns selections are a continuation of that monumental recent progress.
“It does show that (representing New Zealand from Canterbury) can be done,” Linton said.
“The potential in Canterbury is massive, and we had our zone performance camp on Sunday – we’re the only region in the country that was doing a performance camp for women.
“This year we’ve got the second-biggest player pool in terms of districts behind Auckland and Counties.
“We’re getting the player numbers, so now it’s just about getting the consistency and making the girls realise the potential is there and the opportunities are there, they just need to put in the work to take advantage of those.
“Because it’s not just going to come to them through good luck – they’ve got to chase it.”
The Anzac Test could be merely the tip of the iceberg for Canterbury’s female stars, with more spots up for grabs when the squad for November’s Women’s Rugby League World Cup squad is announced.
A wider national squad of about 35 players – including four from Canterbury – has been training together since Christmas, while the national provincial tournament will provide another opportunity for them to push their claims.
Being invited onto the national coaching staff is a massive accomplishment for the highly-rated Linton, but the humble coach prefers to deflect the attention onto his young charges.
“I was appointed three or four weeks ago, so this will be my first camp and first game.
“It’s pretty exciting, and when Tony gave me the call to say the girls were in I was stoked for them as well having coached them at rep level for Canterbury.
“Seeing them involved in that New Zealand set-up is an exciting thing.”
The squad assembles in Auckland on Sunday morning, before jetting to Canberra midweek, where they will enjoy Anzac memorials and ceremonies in between training for Friday evening’s blockbuster.
The Kiwi Ferns are looking to repeat their 2016 success, when they scored a 26-16 upset over the Jillaroos at Hunter Stadium – a thrilling encounter that was widely regarded as far more entertaining than the dour men’s Test that followed.
Kiwi Ferns Anzac Test squad: Alexandra Cook, Annetta Nuuausala, Atawhai Tupaea, Bunty Kuruwaka-crowe, Corrina Whiley, Crystal Tamarua, Georgia Hale, Hilda Peters, Krystal Rota, Langi Veainu, Laura Mariu, Lilieta Maumau, Madison Bartlett, Ngatokotoru Arakua, Nora Maaka, Sarina Fiso (c), Teuila Fotu-Moala, Va’anessa Molia-Fraser.
Jillaroos Anzac Test squad: Sam Bremner, Karina Brown, Corban McGregor, Caitlin Moran, Chelsea Baker, Zahara Temara, Simone Smith, Ruan Sims, Britt Breayley, Heather Ballinger, Renae Kunst, Annette Brander, Maima Taufu, Kody House, Rebecca Young, Amelia Kuk, Isabelle Kelly, Tazmin Gray, Vanessa Foliaki, Maddie Studdon, Rebecca Riley, Ali Brigginshaw, Elianna Walton, Steph Hancock, Nakia Davis-Welsh.
WILL EVANS – CANTERBURY RUGBY LEAGUE