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Kiwi Ferns star Raecene McGregor believes the end-of-season Pacific Championships may help convince her Dragons halves partner Tyla Nathan-Wong and other rugby union converts to stick with league.
Nathan-Wong, who was a member of New Zealand’s gold medal winning rugby sevens team at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, is among a host of NRLW newcomers set to bolster the depth of the Kiwi Ferns.
Niall Williams-Guthrie and Cheyelle Robins-Reti are other cross code stars to have made an immediate impact this season, as the number of players eligible for the Kiwi Ferns in the NRLW has risen to 58.
“It is very exciting to see the new players who are coming through,” McGregor said.
“I have been in the Kiwi Ferns for a number of years now and when I first started there was probably one person for each position so to see that we have got some depth now is awesome.”
McGregor was regarded as the best player in the world last year after winning the 2022 Dally M Medal and IRL Golden Boot, but the Kiwi Ferns were outgunned 54-4 by the Jillaroos in November’s World Cup final at Old Trafford.
However, McGregor believes that the likes of Nathan-Wong, Williams-Guthrie, Robins-Reti and Broncos star Gayle Broughton to choose from the Kiwis Ferns will be much stronger for their two Tests against Australia and one against Tonga.
Nathan-Wong is only on a one-year NRLW deal with the Dragons, but McGregor is hopeful she will stay beyond this season and resist approaches to return to rugby sevens.
“I’m not 100 per cent sure what Tyla is going to decide at the moment,” McGregor said. “I think she has got a few things that she does want to do in sevens possibly, but hopefully she does decide to play in these Test matches at the end of the year.
“If she enjoys that she will hopefully give away the sevens and commit to league.”
The Dragons have eight players eligible for the Kiwi Ferns, including prop Madison Weatherall and teenage forward Alexis Tauaneai, who was selected in the NSW U19s State of Origin team but has pledged her allegiances to New Zealand.
“She is 100% Kiwi and I have been in her ear so NSW can wish but she’s not going there. She will definitely be playing for the Kiwi Ferns,” McGregor said.
“With this NRLW season being longer it has been really exciting to see some of the young girls playing and hopefully we can get a good side together for the Tests at the end of the season.”
The women’s section of the Pacific Championships will feature seven nations, with Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Cook Islands and Samoa to play Tests in Port Morseby.
Jillaroos coach Brad Donald predicted that the expansion of the NRLW competition to 10 teams this season would ensure the Pacific nations become stronger.
“We’ve got so many players playing in the NRLW that have got Pacific heritage and if we can open up the eligibility so some of those players can help their Pacific nations, we’re going to see more and more growth and a higher standard,” Donald said.
“Pair that with what [NRL CEO] Andrew [Abdo] has said about helping pathways in countries like Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and PNG, and we’re going to see a lot more players come through the NRLW, especially as we expand and provide great opportunities for all the females in those countries.”
“It’s a great result for NRLW, it’s a great result for the NRL and it’s an even greater result for international rugby league for women.”
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