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Māori-Tongan US Rugby 7s representative Liz Tafuna is set to fulfil an NRLW dream after club bosses witnessed first hand the talent in North America during their visit to Las Vegas for the historic season opener.

Tafuna told that she wanted to play in the NRLW and Canberra CEO Don Furner spoke to her about joining the Raiders at the NRL Combine ahead of the Round 1 Las Vegas double-header.

Tafuna is likely to become the first American to play in the NRLW after Furner revealed he had already discussed signing her with Raiders coach Darrin Borthwick.

Liz Tafuna was only introduced to league as a fill in player but after winning a place in the team of the tournament the USA rugby union representative now has her sights set on playing in the NRLW.

Tafuna, who was among the North American athletes selected to compete at the NRL’s talent combine in Las Vegas ahead of the historic season opening double-header, had never played league or union before moving to Utah.

Initially having to tell her reluctant Māori mother and Tongan father that she was playing basketball, the then 14-year-old was unable to maintain the secret for long as Tafuna’s natural talents led to representative opportunities.

Since then, Tafuna has played for the USA in both Rugby Sevens and the 15-aside code.

She was also offered a place in the Black Ferns Sevens development squad, where she trained alongside dual code stars Niall Williams-Guthrie and Tyla Nathan-Wong in 2022 and discovered her passion for league.

With New Zealand’s best rugby league players representing the Kiwi Ferns at the World Cup in England, Tafuna was approached to represent her Māori heritage in the annual Tuakana tournament in Rotorua and was an instant hit.

“Someone reached out to me through social media and said ‘I heard you’re in New Zealand’. They needed players at the last minute because a lot of their players had gone to play at the World Cup,” Tafuna told

“I said I’ve watched league, but I don’t know how to play it so if you guys are keen on just teaching me the basics and being patient with me, I’m down to do it because I just want to run around and have a hit-out.

“I told them that I might not know much but I do know how to run hard and I do know how to hit hard, so if you just put me on the wing, I’m sure I can do fine.

“At the end of the tournament they named me for the all-tournament team, which was really cool because it was my first time playing rugby league.”

However, Tafuna is determined it wasn’t her last and is hoping to be one of two female athletes selected at the NFL-style combine to travel to Australia to train with an elite team and try to earn an NRLW contract.

After a day of physical and skills testing run by NRL GM of Elite Pathways, Brad Donald, and Head of Elite Female Performance, Simon Buxton, four successful male and female athletes will be announced at Allegiant Stadium during the double-header.

“A lot of people say to me ‘you should try league, you should go to the NRLW’,” Tafuna said.

“I was like, ‘no, I want to finish everything that I want to do in rugby sevens and 15s because I’ve just committed so much to it, but then, when I played league, I loved it.

“I’ve been watching a lot of the games. I watched the All Stars, I was rooting for the Māori girls. I have also met a lot of players through social media too, or at the Tuakana tournament.

“I met Kenzie Wiki, who plays for Canberra, and then after being with the New Zealand 7s development girls and seeing all the players moving over, like Niall and Tyla, it made me think about it even more.

“I am just loving what the NRL is doing with the women’s game over there and it’s hard to ignore the opportunities. I don’t see a lot of other sports that are growing as fast and that really appeals to me.”

Born in New Zealand, Tafuna has a large family in United and she would regularly move between the two countries with her parents and four brothers until they decided to settle in Utah.

“I didn’t start playing rugby until I had come to the United States, and I was already in high school at that point, just because my parents never wanted me to play,” she said.

“I would say I was going to practice basketball at the park, but by the park was actually this rugby team that was in my area, so I’d go there in my basketball shoes and with a basketball in hand but then I’d go run with the footy team.

“I love running those high lines and I’ve got a little bit of a right step whack, and a little bit of speed too. I like the contact of tackling.

“I enjoyed rugby union 15s because of the contact but I love sevens more just because I like the space and a little bit of a flair that you can have there, so what I loved about league so much was that it is like a combination of the two.”

With the possibility of the first North American players in this year’s NRLW and North Queensland Cowboys captain Tallisha Harden keen to help USA qualify for the next World Cup, Tafuna believes the game in the United States is set to grow.

“There are mean athletes here, there are so many great athletes who have a thirst for it, but they just need to be coached properly,” Tafuna said.

“In the States, everyone thinks it’s here or bust. They don’t realise there are other leagues.

“If girls go over there to be a part of the NRLW and can then bring those gifts and things that they’ve learned back here to the States, it would show the opportunities that exist.

“I think that could be the start of something great too.”