Canterbury women’s coach Mike Linton sees Saturday’s historic East v West women’s fixture as a vital component of the upcoming NZRL National Tournament campaign – and for developing the women’s game as a whole in the region.

A North v South women’s match was played in 2017 – the same year the East v West men’s clash was reinstated – but Saturday’s showdown at Ngā Puna Wai (12:30pm kick-off) will be the first East v West women’s fixture.

“It will be good to see the girls out there at a higher level than what our Sunday club footy is, and being able to see them play to their strengths, still have fun and work with players they don’t work with week-to-week,” Linton says.

“Having the open sessions on Mondays for the last month as well has been good to see a lot of the new players coming on-board. It will be good to see them put the stuff they’ve been working on into action.”

East will be made up of players from defending premiers Linwood Keas, along with Celebration Lions and Eastern Eagles. West’s squad comprises of players from Hornby Panthers and current women’s premiership leaders Burnham Chevaliers.

As well as providing a stepping stone to the Canterbury team, Linton believes the match will assist the development of all players selected – and their clubmates who don’t feature this weekend will also reap the benefits.

“The beauty of the East and West format is players get exposed to new ideas and new ways of doing things. They can increase their knowledge and take that back to their own clubs and help educate their teammates,” he contends.

“Every team is represented really well, all five teams have a good number of players. The real hope is they learn from each other, take that back and share that knowledge so everyone can develop.”

Former Kiwi Ferns assistant Linton, who returned to the Canterbury women’s head coach post this season, has taken plenty of positives from the first seven rounds of the CRL women’s premiership.

“Being away from the Canterbury women’s scene last year, and coming back and seeing a lot of new players and a lot of new talent giving league a go, that’s been the most pleasing thing.

“Seeing the likes of Burnham, who have become more experienced and have been able to play their games through, they’re definitely ahead of where they were last year.

“A lot of teams are in the same boat with injuries, which is affecting their week-to-week flow – their team can be quite different from one week to the next – but that’s the nature of contact sport.”

Usually the Canterbury side would be at the National Women’s Tournament on Queen’s Birthday weekend, but the annual competition has been moved to late-July in 2019 – ostensibly to sync better with the timing of the second NRLW premiership.

The tournament gives elite players a gilt-edged chance to impress scouts ahead of NRLW squads being finalised. Canterbury players will be looking to following the example of Sui Pauaraisa, who starred for the Warriors in the inaugural NRLW season before earning a maiden Kiwi Ferns call-up.

But Linton is primarily focused on preserving and building on Canterbury’s highly encouraging recent results at the National Tournament, finishing third in 2017-18. He says the extra time to prepare is a significant boost to their chances.

“Definitely having the longer build-up is a good thing for us. You get to see more of the players and see them develop a bit more, really get a true sense of what they are capable of.

“I’ve been to tournament a few times now and you’re able to see the players are always able to give more than what they think they can – they just need to be in that environment.

“Having a longer lead-in gives us time to build their confidence and make them sure that they do have it – they just need to believe in themselves.”

Photo Credit: CMG Sports

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Photo Kevin Clarke CMGSPORT
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