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Super Rugby Aupiki Team Previews: All You Need to Know...

On 25th February, the second-ever season of Super Rugby Aupiki will begin. Just like last year, there are four teams, the Blues Women, Chiefs Manawa, Hurricanes Poua and Matatū, who are the South Island-based team.

17 of the 23 Black Ferns who took to the field in the 2022 Rugby World Cup final, will be available during Super Rugby Aupiki. Photo: Max Sharp.

In order to make sure we know everything about each team, let's run through each of them for a season preview. It'll be very exciting to see our wahine play in front of crowds, hopefully we see a solid continuation of interest after the Rugby World Cup, that we hosted on home soil.

Matatū (South Island)

Though the southerners went winless during the 2022 season, the team served as a highly essential outlet for gelling several key decision-makers for the Rugby World Cup together. 10 of the 32 players that Wayne Smith picked, played for Matatū. Of these 10 players, the first and second-choice hooker, first-choice halfback and first-choice fullback, were included.

As the New Zealand and Australian teams are still developing home-based competitions, it is best-suited for just a single South Island side to be in the competition, as this enables a clean-cut round robin stage of three matches each (which I would like to be six matches each in 2024), as well as a more logical playoff system.

Under their Head Coach, Blair Baxter, Matatū have a settled-looking squad, which should hopefully allow them to improve on their last season.

Captain: Alana Bremner

The Rugby World Cup winner is exactly what you need out of a captain. With a follow me-type attitude and enormous work rate on the pitch, Bremner is the kind of player that the team will get behind, as she carries hard, steals lineouts and tops tackle counts.

Most Valuable Player: Renee Holmes

As a full-time athlete and part-time business owner, Holmes is another hard-working player that the team will rely on for x-factor. The 23-year-old is exceptionally quick and the country's best kicker, having converted codes from football. Look for Holmes to score a lot of tries.

The Eden Park crowd erupts with joy as Black Ferns fullback, Renee Holmes, dots down over the tryline in the Rugby World Cup final. Photo: Max Sharp.

Forward to Watch: Lucy Jenkins

While she's got Kendra Reynolds ahead of her at openside flanker, Jenkins must be a Black Fern in-waiting. Matatū likely have to replace every ball at the end of a training, thanks to Jenkins' jackling efforts being so supreme. The young Cantab is passionate, keep your eyes peeled.

Back to Watch: Grace Brooker

Brooker made her test debut at just 20 years old back in 2019, appearing to be a highly promising midfielder. Many expected her to earn selection for the World Cup, before she missed all rugby in 2022 due to an injury sustained in 2021. It's comeback season now.

2023 Matatū Squad:

Italics denote test-capped players.

* Denotes an overseas-born player.

Hookers: Atlanta Lolohea, Georgia Ponsonby, Natalie Delamere

Props: Amy Rule, Pip Love, Stephanie Te Ohaere-Fox, Moomooga Palu, Ellis Doyle

Locks: Cindy Nelles*, Emma Dermody, Sera Naiqama*

Loose Forwards: Alana Bremner, Kendra Reynolds, Lucy Jenkins, Marcelle Parkes, Leah Miles

Inside Backs: Di Hiini, Georgia Cormick*, Rosie Kelly, Te Rauoriwa Gapper

Midfielders: Grace Brooker, Cheyenne Cunningham, Amy du Plessis, Charntay Poko

Outside Backs: Martha Mataele, Renee Holmes, Cheyelle Robins-Reti, Grace Steinmetz

Cindy Nelles, a non-travelling reserve for Canada in the 2022 Rugby World Cup, will add power to the Matatū engine room. Photo: Max Sharp.

Hurricanes Poua (Wellington)

The Hurricanes know exactly what kind of team they want to be. Much like their mens' team, the 'Canes are looking for their young blood to get mentored by several veterans, hence the signings of players such as Aroha Savage, Cristo Tofa and Krystal Murray.

As Wesley Clarke is an Assistant Coach for the Black Ferns, the Hurricanes have named 18-test former Black Fern, Victoria Grant, as their new Head Coach for 2023; a move that has been praised very much. While Sarah Hirini has returned to 7s, the team will still have the muscle up front, to compete.

Captain: Jackie Patea-Fereti

As the 35-year-old has a long history of leadership, it was a wise choice for her to step into the captaincy. Patea-Fereti first captained the Wellington Pride all the way back in 2012, the same year she made her test debut. This is a team looking for muscle up-front for sure.

Former Hurricanes Poua captain, Sarah Hirini (right) has returned to playing 7s, which has seen Jackie Patea-Fereti take over as captain. Photo: Max Sharp.

Most Valuable Player: Ayesha Leti-I'iga

One thing that opposing teams won't want, will be to see this pocket rocket with ball-in-hand. Leti-I'iga has scored 13 tries from 21 tests after her Black Ferns debut at 19 years old. She's a natural talent and will no doubt be running over opponents many times this season.

Forward to Watch: Joanah Ngan-Woo

Known as "the hand", for single-handedly ending England's hopes to score off a maul in the 2022 World Cup final, Ngan-Woo is back in the engine room. As the complete package with pace and an offloading game on attack, with the tackle accuracy to back this up, don't take your eyes off this phenomenal lock for a second.

Back to Watch: Iritana Hohaia

Former Black Ferns coach, Glenn Moore, named Hohaia in the 2021 end-of-year tour squad, but she has yet to make her test debut after recent health issues. At just 22-years-old, the worst appears to be behind Hohaia, who is now the senior halfback in the team.

2023 Squad:

Italics denote test-capped players.

* Denotes an overseas-born player.

Hookers: Saphire Abraham, Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate

Props: Krystal Murray, Leilani Perese, Cilla-Marie Po'e-Tofaeono, Sosoli Talawadua

Locks: Joanah Ngan-Woo, Jackie Patea-Fereti, Rachael Rakatau, Kahurangi Sturmey

Loose Forwards: Kaipo Olsen-Baker, Aroha Savage, Layla Sae, Maddie Feaunati, Rhiarna Ferris, Cristo Tofa

Inside Backs: Carys Dallinger, Milly Mackey, Iritana Hohaia, Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali

Midfielders: Teilah Ferguson, Monica Tagoai, Bernadette Robertson*, Crystal Mayes

Outside Backs: Isabella Waterman, Ayesha Leti-I'iga, Shakira Baker, Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly

The Hurricanes' Joanah Ngan-Woo and Ayesha Leti-I'iga both featured prominently in an analysis of the Black Ferns' attack, posted to The Black Jersey ahead of the World Cup.

Chiefs Manawa (Waikato)

As inaugural winners of Super Rugby Aupiki, the Chiefs Manawa side will have a target on their backs this time around for sure. While their previous captain, Les Elder, has retired and the 7s sisters have returned to their globe-trotting, the team will still have the players to achieve a back-to-back run of title wins - 15 of them have earned test caps.

The 2023 Chiefs Manawa side will not include Ruby Tui, who has openly stated she is yet to decide if she will return to 7s, continue with 15s, or retire from rugby. Photo: Max Sharp.

Allan Bunting has moved on to become the Black Ferns' Head Coach, which has allowed for the promotion of his assistant, Crystal Kaua, the new Head Coach. With Kaua in charge, it's no surprise to see this team hold a lot of power in the forward pack. While the backline has some inexperience, perhaps playing behind this pack will take them to test debuts.

Captain: Kennedy Simon

As a player able to cover 6, 7 and 8, look for Simon to insert herself into the team's spine off the back of the scrum, so that the Chiefs have a skipper who can join the decision-making. As the co-captain of the Black Ferns, all eyes will be on her when rucks form and when tackles are made.

Most Valuable Player: Luka Connor

If anyone is looking for the Chiefs' MVP they need to stop right away with the first-choice hooker. Connor's all-round game as a lineout thrower, maul driver, tackler, jackler, carrier and try-scorer will see her targeted by opponents regularly and she'll always take them head-on.

Forward to Watch: Chelsea Bremner

The 14-test 27-year-old is possibly the most talked-about off-season signing, out of every team. A similar player to her younger sister Alana, Chelsea Bremner will be winning lineout after lineout and dominating the tight spaces of the game, with her new team.

Chelsea and Alana Bremner, teammates in 2022, will now play against each other in 2023. Both players have appeared on The Black Jersey before.

Back to Watch: Tenika Willison

Willison, who has recently turned 25 years old, won a Gold medal with the Black Ferns 7s at the 2021 Olympics and 2022 Commonwealth games. A player with much promise, her first 7s training was at 16 years old. Look for Willison to succeed Portia Woodman on the wing.

2023 Squad:

Italics denote test-capped players.

* Denotes an overseas-born player.

Hookers: Luka Connor, Grace Houpapa-Barrett

Props: Tanya Kalounivale, Angel Mulu, Awhina Tangen-Wainohu, Santo Taumata, Te Urupounamu McGarvey

Locks: Charmaine Smith, Chelsea Bremner, Chyna Hohepa, Kelsie Thwaites, Harono Te Iringa

Loose Forwards: Dhys Faleafaga, Kennedy Simon, Pia Tapsell, Tynealle Fitzgerald, Victoria Makea

Inside Backs: Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu, Violet Hapi-Wise, Amanda Rasch, Hazel Tubic

Midfielders: Azelleyah Maaka, Carla Hohepa, Apii Nicholls-Pualau

Outside Backs: Georgia Daals, Mererangi Paul, Abigail Roache, Tenika Willison, Olive Watherston

Fellow guest on The Black Jersey, Chelsea Semple, was initially named in the Chiefs Manawa but has withdrawn for maternity leave. This opens the door for young blood in midfield.

Blues Women (Auckland)

This season is going to be good for the Blues, who have a classy backline and experienced forwards who will all balance out to make 2023 an exciting package for Harbour, Auckland, Counties and Northland fans.

Former Highlander, Willie Walker, will return for a second season as the Head Coach, while players such as Charmaine McMenamin, Eloise Blackwell, Krysten Cottrell and Ruahei Demant will form a cohesive leadership group for the team. Maybe this will be the team who could upset the Chiefs Manawa?

Captain & Most Valuable Player: Ruahei Demant

Captain at her first-ever Rugby World Cup, winning the title, World Rugby Player of the Year and Kel Tremain Memorial Trophy winner. What a year it was for Demant in 2022. Hopefully she will remain at 10 this year, after Wayne Smith found her best position. It will be interesting to see who will be outside her at 12, especially as the team have so many playmaking options. Regardless of what we see, we all know Demant will be the MVP as well.

Blues captain, Ruahei Demant, was named as World Rugby Player of the Year in 2022. Photo: Max Sharp.

Forward to Watch: Eloise Blackwell

Blackwell became the Black Ferns captain in 2020, during Les Elder's parental leave. Considering she has played 46 tests and is one of the most-capped Black Ferns of all time, her 2022 snubbing was a huge shock. However, Blackwell is still young enough to keep playing. It will be amazing to see if she can return to form.

Back to Watch: Katelyn Vaha'akolo

After several years working in retail and playing in rugby league, Aucklanders will be excited to see Vaha'akolo's code conversion. With pace to burn and a lot of popularity on her side, this is a back fans will trust for a lot of hype. A Black Ferns debut is well on the way...

2023 Squad:

Italics denote test-capped players.

* Denotes an overseas-born player.

Hookers: Grace Gago, Alakoka Po'oi

Props: Chryss Viliko, Cheyenne Tuli-Fale, Sophie Fisher, Esther Faiaoga-Tilo, Letelemalanuola Lavea, Toka Natua

Locks: Eloise Blackwell, Tafito Lafaele, Maiakawanakaulani Roos

Loose Forwards: Ma'ama Vaipulu, Liana Mikaele-Tu'u, Shannon Leota, Joanna Fanene Lolo, Dajian Brown, Charmaine McMenamin

Inside Backs: Ariana Bayler, Ruahei Demant, Patricia Maliepo, Melanie Puckett

Midfielders: Sylvia Brunt, Kiritapu Demant, Krysten Cottrell, Hayley Hutana

Outside Backs: Katelyn Vaha'akolo, Tara Turner, Jaymie Kolose, Holly Williams

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