KEAS COMBAT LONG BREAK IN BID FOR BACK-TO-BACK WOMEN’S TITLES
By the time Linwood Keas run out onto Ngā Puna Wai for the CRL Women’s Premiership Grand Final to face Sydenham Swans, it will have been 42 days since their last game.
A combination of weather cancellations, byes and defaults have conspired against the defending champions, who have also taken the field just once in the past two months.
But Keas coach Joseph Mika is convinced his team’s preparation will mitigate their lack of match practice.
“It’s been a rollercoaster this year, but I’m pretty confident the team will go out and do the job for us,” club stalwart Mika says.
“It’s a good bunch of girls, talented as well, and I just can’t wait for them to go out and express themselves and do our club, their families and our supporters proud.
Linwood finished three points clear at the top of the CRL Women’s Premiership ladder, but with Burnham unable to field a team the Keas again cooled their heels on semi-final weekend.
“Five weeks is a long time for any team to not have a game,” Mika admits.
“The girls wanted a game last week but it was a 50-50 where we could have had a game against the Eagles and (potentially) got injured, or just go and have a good blowout on the Sunday, train hard and that’s what we did. The girls had a good run and there were a few things we needed to touch up.”
An assistant as the Keas snared a memorable 22-20 comeback win over the Swans in last year’s decider, Mika took the head coach reins in 2023 from Iuma Mulitalo, who was doing double duty as the club’s premier men’s coach.
While the likes of Kiwi Ferns rep Sui Pauaraisa, Gloria Su’a and Soala Latu provide a crucial core of experience, Mika has moulded a largely new-look squad this season.
“We’ve basically got a whole new team…(we’ll) definitely miss those girls that did a great job last year and in the Grand Final.
“We’ve got a couple of rugby (union) girls who wanted to have a go at league and they’ve done a great job, we’re really happy to have them in the team and they’re doing well for us.”
Linwood lost just one game during the regular season – a 30-4 defeat to Sydenham in the Grand Final combatants’ last meeting in June.
Mika is under no illusions about the challenge in front of his team against the Swans, who have had the comparative luxury of building momentum with matches on the past two Sundays.
“They’ve got some good young players coming through along with their experienced ones, the new players have brought a lot of skills and energy into their side. That’s something we’ll look at this week and hopefully come up with a plan to shut those girls down.
“They’ve got a great forward pack, Bunty (Kuruwaka-Crowe) is there and some other Polynesian girls who are keen to run. We’ve just got to be prepared to go to battle with them, toe-to-toe. It’s a big ask for our forwards, but I’ve got full confidence they’ll go out and do the job.”
Mika is no stranger to Grand Finals – he was a tryscorer in Linwood’s 2017 Pat Smith Trophy triumph and bagged a hat-trick in the Keas’ 2019 Canterbury Cup Grand Final success.
The women’s side is one of three Linwood teams to feature on 2023 Happy Hire CRL Grand Final Day.
“It’s a massive achievement and history making for our club. We pride ourselves on our values throughout the club, from juniors to the prems,” Mika beams.
“We have great people behind the scenes and volunteers that are keen to put their time in for the kids and into the club. Everyone wants to do well and it’s all about feeding off each other’s energy.
“Training is the best thing about it, everyone wants to learn, to challenge themselves and compete for their positions. A massive thing for this club, and for me taking on this role, is trying to build an opportunity and a pathway for these girls to not just play prems here, but to later play overseas professionally.”
The CRL Women’s Premiership Grand Final kicks off at 12.30pm on Sunday at Ngā Puna Wai.