Canterbury Women Hungry For National Title
By Rebecca Brebner, Canterbury Rugby League
The Canterbury Women’s representative team are gearing up to play some of the hardest footy they’ve ever played.
On Wednesday, the squad of 21 were awarded their jerseys and held in high regard for their hard work and commitment.
Former Kiwi Fern, Tessa TeKahu, reminded the girls that the road leading up to the tournament is just as, if not more, important than the tournament itself.
Coming through as the underdogs last year and placing third in the National Competition, the girls are now eager to back it up and prove that Canterbury is not to be underestimated in New Zealand women’s rugby league.
Coach Mike Linton was stoked with the previous year’s phenomenal performance, but he confirms the goal is to build on that again this year.
“Proud probably couldn’t describe the feeling, last year to get the result for Canterbury instilled belief that we are good enough and we do deserve to be there,” Linton says.
“To challenge the top sides was cool, and no one saw it coming which is a good thing from our perspective.
“However, we don’t want to be the people that nobody expects to do well, we want to be the team that people talk about.”
Linton, who was awarded the Most Outstanding Coach at the 2016 Nationals, believes most of the girls know what to expect and are hungrier for the win this year.
“A coach can set as many goals as he wants but if the players don’t have the same goals and passion then it’s going to be a challenge,” the current Kiwi Ferns assistant says.
Rookie of the team Katie Austin credits the team for having such strong dynamics.
“Being a newbie, I was welcomed with open arms and everyone was really friendly,” Austin enthuses.
Austin is excited about the National tournament, but due to her inexperience at this level, she isn’t sure what to expect.
She says the trainings have been intense, involving a wide variation of skills and learning, but they’ve been the ideal preparation for the team in the lead-up to their campaign this weekend.
“If we stick to our guns and apply what’s been put in place in trainings, then we’ll be fine.”
Although it’s her first taste to this level of rugby league, it doesn’t deter Austin’s aim and desire of taking home the National title.
“Obviously we’re aiming for the big W, we want to take it home.”
Fleur Barker, one of three senior players in the squad’s leadership team, feels more prepared than previous years and believes the girls are working well together.
In terms of team strategies going into the tournament, Barker says cryptically, “it’s a secret, you’ll have to wait and see.”
She believes traditional powerhouses Counties-Manukau and Akarana will both bring strong sides – but the strength of the competition doesn’t frighten the Canterbury squad.
According to Barker: “We want to win….we want to win. That’s all there is to it.”
Carissa Leka, who captains the Canterbury side, highlights the time, energy and effort that’s been put in by the girls during the build-up to Nationals.
Leka explains coming third last year was a massive step up and proved to both the girls, and to Canterbury, what they’re truly capable of.
“I’m feeling pretty confident that we can take it out this year,” Lekasays.
“The ultimate goal is to win every game and come out on top.”
The team will enter the tournament with a strong line-up, which includes recent Kiwi Ferns debutants Corrina Whiley and Bunty Kuruwaka-Crowe. In a World Cup year, Leka emphasises the upcoming tournament represents a big opportunity for several players to follow in their footsteps.
“A lot of our girls could take the black jersey this year, just depending on how much they really want it and the confidence they show on game day,” the skipper says.
Leka hopes success in this tournament will promote women’s rugby league and inspire up and coming players.
“We’re just looking forward to growing the game and in turn growing women’s league again in Christchurch,” she says.
The girls’ first game is set to kick off on Saturday at Auckland’s Cromwell Park against the Northern Swords.
June 3rd 11:30am – Canterbury v Northern Swords
June 3rd 2pm – Canterbury v Counties Manukau Stingrays
June 4th 9:30am – Canterbury v Auckland Vulcans
June 4th – Semi Finals TBC
June 5th – Final TBC