There are 26 Rugby World Cup winning Black Ferns named in the squads, and a further 26 players who have previously donned the black jersey. The second addition of Aupiki will feature 28 rookies. Chiefs Manawa are the defending champions.
Forward: Sophie Fisher – The 24-year old was a lock until she converted to prop in 2021. Her strong transition caught the eye of national selectors. Fisher was included in Black Ferns High Performance Development camps in 2022. An improving scrummager and bustling ball carrier, Fisher is also developing into a handy goal kicker. In the Farah Palmer Cup she has kicked six conversions and a penalty to showcase her variety of skills.
Back: Sylvia Brunt –The midfield back was the captain of the Mount Albert Grammar School First XV girls' team who won the College Sport Auckland Championship in 2021. A year later the 18-year-old made her Black Ferns debut off the bench against Canada in the Pacific Four Series in Waitākere. She was called into the squad as injury cover. In the next Test of that series, she scored a try in the 50-6 win over the USA. Mature beyond her years, Brunt made the Black Ferns World Cup team and scored two tries in the 56-12 win against Wales in Waitākere. One of those tries was nominated for World Rugby’s try of the year. She has played 11 games for Auckland in the Farah Palmer Cup and scored four tries.
Forward: Victoria Makea – In 2020 the police officer had retired from rugby after a distinguished career for Waikato. In 2021 she was lured out of retirement, playing another season to honour the passing of her grandfather. What a season it was. Makea led Waikato to their first Farah Palmer Cup Premiership title. In the 22-20 victory over Canterbury in the final she scored a try in her 50th appearance for the province. The new lease of life continued in 2022 as she was instrumental in the success of Chiefs Manawa, and even earned a Black Ferns trial. The 32-year old is a tough and experienced operator who will provide leadership and spine in the Chiefs Manawa squad.
Back: Amanda Rasch – The 2019 Black Ferns Development selection has endured a horror run of injuries but at her best is arguably the most accurate goal kicker in the country. Rasch kicked a Farah Palmer Cup record 46 conversions for Wellington in 2018, the best effort in 2022 was 17. Dependable at first five or second five, Rasch is tactically astute and a sharp attacking runner. At her Wellington club Oriental Rongotai, Rasch is something of a legend. She has played 73 times and scored 848 points, including 59 tries. The most points she has scored in a game was 46 (2 tries, 18 conversions) against Tawa in 2015.
Forward: Kaipo Olsen-Baker – The No.8 was a sure bet to make the Black Ferns World Cup squad until a knee injury consigned her to the side line. Olsen-Baker was immense for the Hurricanes Poua in their two Aupiki matches last year subsequently earning a Black Ferns trial and then a Test debut against Australia on June 6. Her try exploding down the short side helped the Black Ferns resist a very stubborn Wallaroos challenge. An imposing physical presence, Olsen-Baker will be determined to add to her two Test caps in 2023.
Back: Carys Dallinger – The young first-five was a Black Ferns trialist in 2022. Blessed with pace, vision, and an educated boot she has scored 172 points in 27 matches for Manawatū. Expect the Hurricanes to play an ambitious, high-tempo style which will allow Dallinger, from an extensive sevens background, to flourish.
Forward: Cindy Nelles – The civil engineer capped 19 times by Canada wrote headlines in 2020 when she scored an 81st minute match-winning try for Canterbury in the Farah Palmer Cup final against Waikato. Unfortunately, the 29-year old lock has battled constant injuries since, though she did play for the Blues in Aupiki last year. If Nelles is healthy it’s likely, she’ll shoulder most of the responsibility for replacing Black Ferns lock Chelsea Bremner who is playing for Chiefs Manawa. Nelles has never lost in 15 appearances for Canterbury and started the 2014 World Cup final for Canada against England.
Back: Cheyenne Cunningham – The shepherd from Kurow was driving to Dunedin (five hours return) at least twice a week to train and play for Otago in the Farah Palmer Cup. The commitment was worth it as the skilful and illusive centre scored a competition leading nine tries to help the Spirit reach the championship final. Otago was beaten in the decider by Hawke’s Bay but did beat every team in the division. Cunningham has played 35 games for Otago and scored 20 tries. At 72kg she won’t be the biggest midfield back in the competition, but she doesn’t shirk the physical challenge and is a joy to watch in space.