The second edition of Super Rugby Aupiki kicks off this weekend with a host of exciting new talent, some players swapping teams, and other familiar faces returning. Who are the rookies set to make an impression in 2023? Here are four names to watch.
Sophie Fisher - Blues
Fisher spent four seasons playing lock for North Harbour. When she moved to Auckland in 2021, she was converted into a loosehead prop and made such an impression she was invited to Black Ferns Development camps in 2022.
Like Krystal Murray, Fisher is also a goal-kicker. In the 2022 Farah Palmer Cup (FPC) she kicked a side-line conversion at Eden Park to help Auckland beat Wellington 26-25.
Fisher will compete hard with Toka Natua, the hero of the 2017 World Cup final with three tries, for the starting loosehead berth.
Azalleyah Maaka - Chiefs Manawa
Maaka was something of a prodigy while at Gisborne Girls’ High School. A leading touch and netball player she was also a member of the New Zealand Sevens team that won a gold medal at the Youth Olympics in Sydney.
Mentored by former Black Fern Trish Hina, Maaka has since moved to the Bay of Plenty where she settled at the Volcanix playing 15 matches in midfield in the FPC. A silky runner with good distribution and anticipation, an intercept she poached against Auckland won the match 7-3 late last year.
With Theresa Fitzpatrick and Stacey Fluhler back with the Black Ferns Sevens and Chelsea Alley on maternity leave, there is a chance for a young midfield back like Maaka to put her hand up for national selection.
Maddie Feaunati - Hurricanes Poua
The daughter of former Manu Samoa international Isaac Fe'aunati, Maddie had a breakout season for the Wellington Pride in the FPC. Maddie started all seven matches impressing with her aggressive tackling, turnover ability, work rate, and discipline.
The 20-year-old is a product of St Mary’s College, who've produced recent Black Ferns Dhys Faleafaga and Monica Tagoai. The Poua back row also includes Black Ferns Kaipo Olsen-Baker and Aroha Savage and Rhiarna Ferris, and Layla Sae, two brutal defenders from the Manawatū.
Cheyenne Cunningham - Matatū
Cunningham is a shepherd driving five hours return, at least twice a week, from Waitaki to Dunedin to train and play for Otago in the FPC.
Despite the travel burden, Cunningham was the leading try scorer in the competition with nine. She has scored 20 tries in 35 games for Otago.
Cunningham has the pace and skill to cover the wings and might have to with Black Ferns Grace Brooker and Amy du Plessis, also Matatū midfield options.
In fact, it would be a real surprise if Matatū doesn’t play at a breakneck pace. They boast Black Ferns Renee Holmes, Grace Steinmetz, and Cheyelle Robins-Reti out wide and Canterbury wing Martha Mataele who scored in every FPC game for Premiership-winning Canterbury.
Players New To Franchise In 2023
Chiefs Manawa: 11
Hurricanes Poua: 13