Fijiana lost three out of five games in the round-robin but upset the previously unbeaten New South Wales Warathas 20-17 in the semis before taming the Reds in a thrilling final that featured nine tries.
Fijiana scored 24 points in a stunning 10-minute burst during the second half to secure a win that was formally acknowledged by the Fijian Parliament.
Another unique feature of Super Rugby W was the number of Kiwis involved who had a positive impact on their teams. The Rebels didn’t win a match but Rachael Rakatau of Manawatū and Hurricanes Poua added steel in the back row.
The Western Force were big improvers winning their last two matches against the Melbourne Rebels 13-5 and Fijiana 23-10. They had lost 15 consecutive matches stretching back to 2019.
Wellington Pride prop Angeilca Ulia added size and strength in the front row while Ariana Hira Herangi is a former Waikato and Counties player in midfield who has appeared for Australia. Paihau and Trilleen Pomare are a duo born in Auckland.
The Kiwi who had the biggest impact at the Force though was wing Martha Mataele. Mataele who scored in every game of Canterbury’s run to the 2022 Farah Palmer Cup (FPC) title and was part of the Matatū Super Rugby Aupiki champion team scored tries in the Force’s last three Super W games, helping them to victories over the Rebels and Fijiana Drua. This was backed up by a double against the Brumbies, with the winger brutalising opposition with her trademark fend and impressive strength. Husband Manasa Mataele plays for the Force men’s team making the pair the first husband/wife duo in Super Rugby history.
The Brumbies were aided by the services of Black Ferns World Cup-winning prop Amy Rule and outside back Harmony Ioane. Former Black Ferns hooker Susan Dawson, previously assistant of Northland, joined the coaching staff. The Brumbies beat the Melbourne Rebels 30-23 and Western Force 45-27 as they narrowly missed the playoffs with their largest defeat 13-24 at the hands of the Warathas.
Runners up the Reds profited the most from their large Kiwi contingent by making the final. Former Black Ferns hooker Cristo Tofa was a worthy addition to the front row while Sam Curtis is a busy and abrasive loose forward. The most telling contribution was made by first-five Carys Dallinger, who in combination with champion Matatū halfback Diane Hiini, was close to the MVP of the competition. The 22-year-old made the move to Queensland after impressing for Manawatū in the FPC before establishing her spot in the Hurricanes Poua side in Super Rugby Aupiki.
Following her debut in a 29-14 win against the Force in round two, she was promoted into the starting line-up a week later against the Brumbies in a 20-10 success.
Dallinger charged on to start every game thereafter with her kicking and game management real highlights. Her 78th-minute penalty in the semi-final against the Brumbies secured the Reds a 23-20 victory.