Māori Ferns set 'super fit' target for NRL All Stars clash

By James Perry

Under the intense Waikato sun, the NZ Māori Women's Rugby League team were put through their paces, as they prepared to defend their NRL Indigenous All-Stars title next month.

The 24-strong squad is in camp in Huntly this weekend, the first time the entire squad, including the Australian based players, has come together, and one of the last chances to push for a spot in the playing squad to take on the Indigenous All Stars in February.

Front-rower Harata Butler says that after the festive season, some of the players found motivation a struggle so early in the new year. 

"The girls were saying last night they weren't keen on getting out there or they hadn't done their homework, so when the sun came out this morning none of us were really excited about what was ahead. But in the end, we got out there and did the mahi," Butler says.

The management team, however, say this is a great way for the squad to prepare for the match on the Gold Coast where the temperatures can reach 30 degrees. Coach Rusty Matua says it also helps the team reach their goals for the game.

"Last year, our goal was to be fit when we went to Australia and our goal this year is to be super fit.

"As a Māori coach, our natural talent is undeniable, but I know for a chance to have us beat Australia in Australia and the Indigenous we must be fit. So that's been our priority in regards to getting our girls prepared," Matua says.

In the first Indigenous All Stars clash last year in Melbourne, the Māori side scraped home with the win, 8-4.

Butler says their goal this year is to lift their game to another level and showcase again the Māori game.

"We only brushed the tip of our skills really of our game. We didn't get a chance to fully get into the swing of it or actually showcase our full talents and it showed in the score. Really, it was a close game," she says.

For the coach, the focus right now is on improving the pace at which the team operates and building their confidence.

"Our big focus is getting the speed of our game up, increasing the speed of our game. And also too, just getting our rehearsed moves a bit more polished so that we feel a bit more confident to execute those in the big match as well," Matua says,

The training camp in Huntly finishes on Sunday morning before the players return to their homes and work.

The squad will be finalised next week, with those named set to leave for the Gold Coast in February.

The NRL Indigenous All Stars match will take place on 22 February at Cbus Super Stadium on Queensland's Gold Coast.