A 1995 Kiwi Ferns original, Leah Witehira was a prolific try-scorer at international level and a steady influence in the halves as New Zealand triumphed in the first two women’s World Cups.
Witehira scored four tries on the Kiwi Ferns’ pioneering tour of Australia in 1995 – including vital four-pointers in both Test wins. She added four tries as one of one of the standout players in New Zealand’s 1998 series cleansweep of Great Britain on home soil.
Forming a stellar halves combination with brilliant Wellingtonian Trish Hina, Witehira featured in the 1999 series against Australia – dotting down again in the first two Tests – and continued her remarkable strike-rate with tries in both of the Kiwi Ferns’ preliminary matches at the 2000 World Cup in England.
But the skilful, level-headed Witehira’s ability to steer a team around the park was equally valuable as New Zealand powered to the trophy with big wins over Australia in the semi-final and England in the final.
“Leah was one of those players who was a natural athlete but had really good vision, which is one of the hardest things to teach in rugby league – really you either have it or you don’t,” 2000 World Cup-winning co-captain and fellow 2022 Legends of League inductee Nadene Conlon recalls.
“She knew how to find those gaps, a really smart ball-player and got the team moving forward, directed the team around – but also knew when to have a stab herself.
“Leah was a good leader and a hard worker, just a great all-rounder. She wasn’t huge and didn’t lack defensive ability either.”
Witehira was at the forefront again as the Kiwi Ferns successfully defended their world champions crown in New Zealand in 2003, scoring tries in the semi-final and final to earn a place in the World Cup team of the tournament.
Though the 2004 tour of Australia was her Kiwi Ferns swansong, Witehira, also a New Zealand Māori rep, later captained Counties-Manukau to a draw against Great Britain in 2010 and was still turning out for Otahuhu as player-coach another decade later.
New Zealand Representative:
1995 in Australia
1998 v Great Britain
1999 v Australia (home and away)
2000 World Cup (England)
2002 v New Zealand Māori
2003 World Cup (NZ)
2004 in Australia
World Cup team of the tournament (2003)