Above: The Championship winning Wellington Pride team last year. Many players return for their first season back in the Premiership division after being going down 2017.
The Wellington Pride will be without a handful of key players in this year’s Farah Palmer Cup, but they should have enough power and size in the forwards and pace and finishing out wide to make the starter’s gates of the Premier division semi-finals in the third weekend of October.
First the [confirmed] injury news. The following players are unavailable for the campaign. Tyler Bentley (HOBM), Marcelle Parkes, Monica Tagoai (MSP), Isadora Laupola, Julie Tusa (Norths), Evelyn Tea (Ories), Acacia Te Iwimate (Petone) and Brooke Tauaneai (Wainuiomata).
Tagoai, who played on the right wing for the Pride in 2018, has been injured all season after breaking her leg in pre-season in club rugby. Laupola broke her arm in a motor vehicle accident the week before the club rugby finals and New Black Fern Marcelle Parkes disclocated her shoulder just before halftime playing in the Women’s Division 2 final for MSP.
Perhaps the biggest loss will be Accacia Te Iwimate (knee). Her experience, cool head and all-round versatility at first five-eighth was a big reason why the Pride swept all before them last year and won the Championship division.
Now the good news. Without these players, the Pride still has good depth in most positions and several genuine game breakers that can put all sorts of heat on the opposition at this level.
In the forwards,captain Jackie Patea-Fereti will be fizzing after missing a chunk of the season – including internationals for the Black Ferns – through injury, while Jonah Ngan-Woo will look to continue her good form that saw her make her Black Ferns debut recently, while others such as her Ories teammate Sinead Ryder-Toala Petone duo Angel Uila and Elieta Taito and Norths lock Sanita Levave and loosie Nina Foaese will help with the physical presence.
There is enough strikepower in the backs to trouble teams, in the likes of Amanda Rasch, Sieni Mose, Bernadette Robertson and newcomers Lyric Faleafaga and Thamsyn Newton.
Newton, who plays cricket for Wellington and has pulled stumps for New Zealand, had an eye-catching debut club season in the green and white OBU Impala hoops.
She played seven matches at second five-eighth, centre and fullback and scored 15 tries and kicked goals as well. This included a 46-point haul in a 78-12 win over Poneke.
Then there is the danger lurking out on the left wing in the form of Ayesha Leti-L’iga, who is a proven try-scorer at club, Farah Palmer Cup and now international level.
The Ories wing finished this past club season with a record of 110 tries in 50 matches played, but she has also scored 29 tries in 26 matches for the Wellington Pride.
She scored two tries in Wellington’s 43-38 win over Canterbury last year. Wellington were the only side to beat Canterbury in 2018, as the red and blacks went on to beat Counties Manukau 57-5 to win their second consecutive Division 1 title.
The Pride lost their season opener to Hawke’s Bay last year, before going on an unbeaten run to beat Otago 57-5 in the Championship final.
Thus Saturday’s season opener in Christchurch will be between the defending top tier champions and hosts and the newly promoted visitors Wellington.
Canterbury’s game will revolve around Black Ferns halfback Kendra Cocksedge and a structured, organised pack that plays in a similar style to all Canterbury teams, young and old. Like last year’s meeting at Porirua Park, the Pride will need to find a way to disrupt their game.
The Pride will also be challenging for the JJ Stewart Trophy, the ‘Ranfurly Shield’ of domestic women’s rugby.
This will be their 23rd meeting in Women’s NPC matches since 1999 with Canterbury ahead 12-10 in the head-to-head standings so far.
Kick-off at the newly named Orangetheory Stadium is at 12.05pm.
There are two other matches to start the 2019 Women’s NPC this year, with Bay of Plenty hosting Counties Manukau and Waikato hosting Auckland elsewhere.
The Pride play six matches in the next seven weeks (bye in week six). Following this weekend’s opener against Canterbury, they play BoP at home at Jerry Collins Stadium, Counties Manukau at Westpac Stadium, Auckland at Eden Park, Waikato at Westpac Stadium and Manawatu in Pamerston North.
Their two matches at Westpac Stadium are double headers with the Wellington Lions. They have played there twice before, losing 0-47 to Auckland in 2012 and again 13-35 to Waikato in 2014.
Above: All set for the season opener between Canterbury and Wellington. View the Women’s NPC Draws & Results HERE
Below: Ayesha Leti-L’iga scores one of her two tries in the Pride’s win over Canterbury last year.