The Canterbury Women’s team competed at the NZRL National Women’s Tournament last weekend, impressing with another third-place result despite taking an inexperienced squad to Auckland following the late withdrawal of some key players.

After tough losses to Mid Central Vipers (20-12) and Akarana Falcons (46-0) on day one, Canterbury was edged out by Auckland Vulcans (10-6) in their last pool match then ran into a red-hot Falcons side again in the semi-finals, going down 48-4.

But a thrilling 6-4 over the Vipers in the 3 v 4 playoff saw Canterbury finish the gruelling campaign on a high. We caught up with Canterbury Women’s head coach MIKE LINTON for a debrief of the National Women’s Tournament.


CRL: You’ve had a bit of time to reflect on the tournament – what are your main takeaways from the weekend?

ML: The talent and the pride was definitely out there all weekend. It just highlighted the difference of the game up there in intensity and speed. I think it caught some of our players by surprise. But we kept learning from that first day and it all sort of came together on that last day.

Canterbury had a couple of tough outings against Akarana. Did that show you the level the team is hoping to aspire to?

Yes, talent-wise I don’t think we’re that far off. It’s just about being able to sustain the intensity and the effort over the course of a game. The girls really learned about that, and about having to execute and being ready to back up with effort on effort.

If you do make a mistake, the other team is always looking to punish you and that was a pretty tough lesson to learn against a team like Akarana, who are dominated by Kiwi Ferns and Warriors players. But our girls never took a backwards step and showed some pretty good glimpses where they competed and challenged them. There were times Akarana were uncomfortable, we just couldn’t sustain it.

Maintaining Canterbury’s third-place standing and responding to the day one loss to Mid Central Vipers by winning the playoff must have been a pleasing way to wrap up the campaign?

That last day, going in it was all about knowing they’d given everything and learned you can never give up.

All the ups and downs of the first two days came together, and the way the girls put it all out there and never backed down – they made mistakes trying things, but they never stopped trying or went into their shell, even when we were behind.

I’m just pleased that the girls were super proud of their effort, (more so) than the result.

There were several players competing in their first National Tournament – were you pleased with how they handled the heavy workload over three days?

The rookies were all awesome really. They took every lesson on board and took every opportunity. Some of them really made their case for the extra game-time and made selections pretty hard. I couldn’t be more proud of our rookie bunch.

We lost three experienced players (Sui Pauaraisa, Epenesa Ki and Amanda Clarke) in the build-up and we could only replace that experience with more rookies. But they just put their best forward at the tournament and I think they found that hunger to improve, to go up there next year and be a better athlete, a better player and a better person. That’s pretty exciting.

Every player across the (squad of) 21 did more than I expected. They can take massive heart from what they’ve done. I don’t think they realise how well they did competing against the heavy hitters.

How was the team spirit on and off the field over the weekend?

The culture amongst the girls was awesome. We had a bit of a team meeting after day two. We hadn’t won a game yet so we had a bit of a heart-to-heart, and a bit of a chat about we were at and how we felt. The common theme was that they were having fun, learning and had a new appreciation for rugby league and how it should be played.

There was no sense of disappointment, the girls had each other’s backs and everyone was doing all they could to do the best job for the person next to them. That really shone through on that last day.

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