Luisa Avaiki was one of just three players to feature in New Zealand’s first three World Cup triumphs and the only 1995 original still playing when the Kiwi Ferns carried off the 2008 title, reflecting her rare longevity in the front-row trenches. Meanwhile, Avaiki’s role as captain of the 2003 and ’08 World Cup successes underline her status as one of women’s rugby league’s finest leaders and a Kiwi Ferns icon.


A try-scorer as New Zealand won its inaugural Test against Australia on the trailblazing 1995 tour, Avaiki starred again as the Kiwi Ferns defeated their trans-Tasman rivals in 1997 and was named player of the series after the 1998 series cleansweep of Great Britain.


Avaiki’s explosive ball-running was a key component of New Zealand’s resounding victory in the first women’s Rugby League World Cup in England in 2000.


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She ascended to the captaincy for the 2003 competition on home soil and was named player of the tournament as the Kiwi Ferns defended their title in emphatic style.


“Luisa was unstoppable in that tournament,” says ex-Kiwis coach Frank Endacott, who was responsible for deciding on the award winners at the 2003 World Cup.


“She made the hard yards, had the offload to go with it, defended powerfully. World class. And a special lady, too – it’s great to see she’s still in the thick of it as a coach.”


The Richmond stalwart was similarly influential at the 2008 World Cup and scored a try in leading New Zealand to a 34-0 win over hosts Australia in the final at Suncorp Stadium – a fitting swansong to an extraordinary Kiwi Ferns tenure.


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Of Samoan and Niuean descent (she moved to New Zealand from Samoa with her family as a child), Avaiki skippered Fetu Samoa in a Test against Australia in Apia in 2011.


Avaiki’s contribution to the game since hanging up the boots has been monumental. As well as coaching at grassroots level and holding development and welfare roles with Melbourne Storm and New Zealand Rugby League, she was the Warriors’ head coach in the first two seasons of the NRLW premiership, served as an assistant coach for the Kiwi Ferns and became NZRL’s Head of Women’s Rugby League.


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“Luisa was a really explosive player and passionate about representing New Zealand, very dedicated,” long-time Kiwi Ferns teammate and fellow Legend of League inductee Nadene Conlon says.


“And definitely one of the toughest opponents I’ve come up against, having played against her as well. I’d much rather be on her team – she was one of the hardest to tackle.


“She wasn’t the busiest player, but everything she did, she did well. She could change a game for you – a tackle that knocked the ball out or a big run. One of the strongest and most mobile forward runners that we’ve ever had and the best prop in the world during her time.


“Luisa was so dedicated to the Kiwi Ferns, which shows in her longevity in the game and she became a really good leader. Her guidance was great for our Pacific Islands girls, too, and she’s always given back to the game.”


Avaiki was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2019 New Year’s honours list for services to rugby league.




Clubs: Richmond

Provinces: Auckland


New Zealand Representative:


1995  in Australia

1997  v Australia

1998  v Great Britain

1999  v Australia (home and away)

2000  World Cup (England)

2001  v Australia

2002  v New Zealand Māori

2003  World Cup (NZ)

2004  in Australia

2008  World Cup (Australia)




Player of the series v Great Britain (1998)

Kiwi Ferns World Cup-winning captain (2003, 2008)

Captain of World Cup team of the tournament (2003)

World Cup player of the tournament (2003)

Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (2019)


Amongst those sports stars recognised in the New Year’s honours list was women’s rugby league legend Luisa Avaiki.

Avaiki has been involved in rugby league for more than three decades, dating back to when she first played for the Kiwi Ferns in 1995. She’s lifted the Women’s Rugby League World Cup three times (2000, 2003, 2008), two of them as captain and she continues to inspire the next generation of wahine toa to reach such heights as she did.

She went on to hold development and welfare roles at the Melbourne Storm and is currently the Women’s Wellbeing and Development Manager at New Zealand Rugby League, also coaching the women’s Warriors team in the WNRL.

“I was shocked but grateful,” Avaiki said. “I felt honoured because I have been in the game for a long time, and you go about doing your work because you’re passionate about it.

“I’m grateful I can still be a part of this game and help give back and contribute.”

Luisa Avaiki has been named a finalist for the 2018 NEXT Magazine Woman of the Year awards.

In rugby league circles, Luisa is a legend who is known for her dedication, integrity, vision and humility.

From 1995-2009, she was a member of the Kiwi Ferns and was a part of all World Cup-winning teams (2000, 2003, 2008, being captain for two of them (2003 & 2008).

The former player and trail-blazer has been a driving force of the sport for the past two decades. Not only is she the NZRL Wellbeing & Women’s Development Manager, she has been instrumental in getting more women playing the game.

In March this year, a long-held dream of Luisa’s was realised when she became the first woman to be appointed head coach with an NRL club.

Other finalists for the 2018 NEXT Magazine Woman of the Year awards:

Sophie Devine: White Ferns Player

Natalie Taylor: Tall Ferns Co-Captain

Professor Sarah Leberman: Sports Researcher

Sarah Goss: Black Ferns Sevens Captain

Dr Malvindar Singh-Bains: Research Fellow

Dr Philippa Howden-Chapman: Professor Of Public Health

Dr Nicola Gaston: MacDiarmid Institute Co-Director

Dr Julia Rucklidge: Professor Of Clinical Psychology

Dr Jane Harding: Professor Of Neonatology

Former Kiwi Ferns captain and NZRL Wellbeing and Women’s Development Manager, Luisa Avaiki, has been named as head coach of the Warriors’ new NRL women’s team.

The Warriors were confirmed as one of four clubs in the new NRL women’s competition on Tuesday and appointed Avaiki on Wednesday.

Avaiki captained the Kiwi Ferns to victory in two of the first three women’s World Cup tournaments in 2003 and 2008 and was a part of the Kiwi Ferns team that won the inaugural World Cup. Her international career stretched from 1995-2009.

She has been prominent in coaching since her retirement from playing, and has worked for the Melbourne Storm as their games development officer. She has been the New Zealand Rugby League’s well-being and women’s development manager since 2016.

Avaiki, who has also represented Samoa in rugby league, rugby union and touch, said she was humbled when given the opportunity to become the club’s first NRL women’s coach. The Warriors believe she is the first woman to have a coaching position with an NRL club.

The competition, which will also involve the Sydney Roosters, St George-Illawarra Dragons and Brisbane Broncos, will start later this year.

“Women’s rugby league has a long history in New Zealand but the introduction of this competition has taken our game to a whole new level,” she said.

“It’s a huge honour having the chance to take up this role.”

Warriors general manager of football Brian Smith said the club was thrilled to appoint Avaiki.

“It was a huge day being named as one of the four foundation clubs yesterday and it’s even more exciting to be able to announce Luisa’s appointment today. We were keen to move on this quickly as we seek to build our team.

“The new competition is taking the club and the women’s game into a completely new era which we’re so proud to a part of.”

Warriors CEO Cameron George, head coach Stephen Kearney, Smith and Avaiki met prospective players for the women’s team at Mount Smart Stadium on Wednesday night.

“For us, our women’s team will be just like our other three sides in the NRL, the Intrust Super Premiership and the Jersey Flegg Cup,” said George.

“They’ll strive to attain the same values we have for the club’s other teams.

“We are all about winning, about having a crack every time we play and making our members and fans proud.”