10 Aug 2018

Key NZ players choose Australian NRL clubs

1:56 pm on 10 August 2018

Women's Warriors coach Luisa Avaiki says Kiwi Fern players who chose to play for Australian NRL clubs left with her blessing.

Warriors coach Luisa Avaiki

Warriors coach Luisa Avaiki Photo: Photosport Ltd 2018 www.photosport.nz

The women's Warriors team will make New Zealand rugby league history tonight when they play Auckland ahead of their male counterparts at Mt. Smart stadium.

In a side you'd think would be littered with experienced Kiwi Fern players it's not the case.

Notable players like Honey Hireme, Kimiora Ngati and Maitua Feterika won't be featuring in tonight's clash after committing early to Australian sides.

Eight New Zealand players in total have crossed the ditch to play in the inaugural NRLW competition made up of four clubs the Warriors, Broncos, Dragons and Roosters.

While all eight names featured on the initial NRL contract list, they were players available to be signed to any club not necessarily the Warriors.

Warriors' coach Luisa Avaiki at training session

Warriors' coach Luisa Avaiki at training session Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2018 www.photosport.nz

Head coach Avaiki says while she tried to recruit them, Australian NRL clubs were negotiating with players early.

"The players had already told me before they made that decision. Honey rung me and told me her decision because she did have an intention to play here," says Avaiki

"I rung all of those players initially I didn't just assume they would be in the Warriors because there were other opportunities."

"Australian NRL clubs had already come over here and approached these girls."

It's resulted in a number of experienced players retracting their retirements to join the Warriors including newly-named captain Laura Mariu.

Mariu's international career started in 2000 and captained the Kiwi Ferns in last year's world cup final against Australia. After a disappointing result she was sure she wouldn't be returning to the game.

An opportunity to play elite rugby league for the only New Zealand NRL club was something she couldn't pass up and says she accepts her role knowing that with it comes responsibility.

"To be honest it was gut-wrenching after forming relationships with those players in the Kiwi Ferns and you've known them for years," says Mariu.

"I'm happy they have taken their opportunities though and are still playing the game."

"For me it's our responsibility to lead the way here in New Zealand to pave the way for our younger women coming through the game."

At a glance it's clear to see Avaiki's selection intentions.

Of the 22 players signed to the club, three are without Kiwi Ferns caps and those three haven't been named in tonight's starting line-up.

"This is an opportunity for our girls at the highest level to be part of an elite club competition, playing competitive sides week in and week out," says Avaiki

"It's a little bit different but it's good in term of their development and taking our game to the next level."

Players selected for Australian NRL clubs:

Dragons: Honey Hireme, Raecene McGregor

Broncos: Kimiora Ngati, Karley Te Kawa, Maitua Feterika, Ngatokotoru Arakua, Teuila Fotu Moala

Roosters: Nita Matnard

Trial match kick off between the women's Warriors and Auckland at Mt. Smart stadium is scheduled for 6pm.

The Warriors play the Newcastle Knights in an NRL match at 8pm straight after.