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In a major boost for New Zealand rugby league, the One New Zealand Warriors will return to the NRLW in 2025 after a five-year absence.

The Australian Rugby League Commission today announced their inclusion as one of two clubs to be added to an expanded 12-team competition in 2025.

While the draw is yet to be confirmed, the likely structure will include an eight-week preseason, an 11-round regular season and a two-week finals series.

“It’s obviously extremely exciting, not just for our club but for women’s rugby league in New Zealand,” said One New Zealand Warriors CEO Cameron George.

“Our fans have eagerly awaited the return of their side to the NRLW stage. We saw that excitement pre-Covid and now, after plenty of work, we’re finally ready to go again.”

Work behind the scenes on both the logistics and resourcing necessary to successfully re-enter the competition has been going on since the club officially returned to Go Media Stadium after the 2022 season.

Though major appointments like a head coach and marquee players were yet to be made, George said the green light from the NRL meant the club could now make moves.

“We were a big part of the competition before and we’ve been working hard to get back in ever since.”

George said the Warriors’ legacy in the NRLW serves as a testament to their commitment to women’s rugby league and a desire to reclaim their position at the forefront of the sport.

The Warriors appointed leading New Zealand rugby league administrator Nadene Conlon as the club’s NRLW academy manager more than a year ago to create a development and pathways programme ahead of a planned return to the competition.

“There has been a lot of work going on behind the scenes to make this possible,” said the former Kiwi Ferns captain.

“Now we can push on and set about bringing a team together for our re-entry into the NRLW next year.

“We’re delighted it has come to fruition. The number of women playing the game in New Zealand has been growing so much and now the dream of representing the Warriors is becoming a reality.”

The Warriors were one of four foundation clubs alongside Brisbane, St George Illawarra and the Sydney Roosters when the NRLW was launched in 2018; they played in the competition for the first three seasons before the Covid pandemic’s impact forced them to withdraw.

Krystal Rota, a member of the Warriors’ inaugural NRLW team, shared her excitement about the club’s return.

“It’s so exciting. I remember that feeling of pulling on the Warriors jumper for the first time. It was so special, it’s every kid’s dream if you grow up playing rugby league in Aotearoa,” she said.

Rota’s journey exemplifies the significance of the NRLW in providing a pathway for local talent to shine on the international stage.

Reflecting on the impact of Covid on women’s rugby league in New Zealand, Rota felt there was now an opportunity to lure some lost talent back home.

“Covid forced so much of our local talent offshore, including myself. I went to Newcastle because there was no pathway here so I have no doubt this announcement will lure some of those ladies back.”

The Warriors’ return to the NRLW promises to reignite the passion for the sport among players and fans alike, providing an invaluable opportunity for homegrown talent to showcase their skills in the famed Warriors strip.

With further details set to be announced soon, the stage is set for the Warriors to embark on a new chapter in their NRLW journey.

Luisa Avaiki believes the inaugural NRL women’s premiership is a big “opportunity” for women playing in NZ.

All Lorina Papali’i wanted to do was be a trainer for the inaugural Warriors women’s team, but it was confirmed on Wednesday she’d cracked the squad.

The 41-year old-mother of Warriors’ second rower, Isaiah Papali’i is one of the 22 named Warriors squad for the short women’s NRL season, which will take place during the playoff rounds of the men’s NRL competition.

Papali’i had a glittering rugby league career, playing for the Kiwi Ferns from 2001 to 2010, playing in two World Cups, and also represented Samoa in two rugby union World Cups.

But she spent eight years out of the game, to be involved in cross fit and only put the boots on again when a women’s NRL competition came on the radar.

Initially, she was interested in being the trainer for the team, but was encouraged to give it a go to make the squad.

Lorina Papali'i, third from left, and some of her Warriors' team-mates at the squad announcement at Mt Smart.

“I have one life, one opportunity and feel it’s now or never,” she said.

“I was missing in action for eight years and did cross fit.

“But my goal has been hard work this year. I felt like I was hit by a bus.

“I’ve had a lot of treatment, physio, chiro, I’ve hit the pools, I’ve done hot and colds after the game and during the week.

“So there’s been a lot of rehab for me and my recovery is not as fast as the younger ones.”

She said she has been inspired to have another crack at rugby league by her son, who is this week in the Gold Coast, with the rest of the men’s team, preparing for Saturday’s game against the Dragons in Wollongong.

Lorina Papali'i in action for the Kiwi Ferns, whom she represented from 1994 to 2005.

Lorina Papali’i in action for the Kiwi Ferns, whom she represented from 1994 to 2005.

“He’s very supportive,” Lorina said.

“He’s proud and that’s what gives me the energy to get up each day, to make him proud.”

But likewise, Isaiah is just as impressed with his mother, who has been a big influence on his career.

“She’s always at my games giving me feedback. She’s still the master and I’m still trying to learn from her,” Isaiah said.

“I grew up watching her play footy. She was a really good player so watching her and my dad, I was inspired to go on this pathway after being being around the environment.”

If there’s any disappointment from Lorina about making this Warriors squad, it’s that there wasn’t this opportunity for her 20 years ago.

Lorina Papali'i's 19-year-old son Isaiah is enjoying a breakout season with the Warriors this year.

Lorina Papali’i’s 19-year-old son Isaiah is enjoying a breakout season with the Warriors this year.

“For the girls I played with in the past, it would have been amazing to have had this kind of pathway,” she said.

“I feel like I’m representing the past, the present and this team is paving the way for the future.”

The Warriors squad also includes Kiwi Ferns captain Laura Mariu and the experienced international Sarina Clark, who missed last year’s World Cup due to the birth of her third child.

Warriors coach Luisa Avaiki is delighted with the squad she has at her disposal for the inaugural competition.

“New Zealand Rugby League put out some information to the girls about making sure they’d feel good about their decisions if they’re approached.

“But to be honest, I didn’t know how hard other clubs were going until I heard they were engaging with certain players and then some of our players were going over.

“I know some of those girls well and it was never about holding onto them and saying they have to play for me, it was about what was best for them and their families.”

Warriors women’s player Krystal Rota credits family for their help with her sick daughter Nikayla.

The Warriors will warm up for the competition with a match against Auckland in a double header with the men’s team at Mt Smart Stadium on August 10.


Warriors women’s NRL squad: Raquel Anderson-Pitman, Sarina Clark, Lisa Edwards, Luisa Gago, Georgia Hale, Amber Kani, Onjeurlina Leiataua, Hilda Mariu, Laura Mariu, Va’anessa Molia-Fraser, Apii Nicholls, Tanika-Jazz Noble-Bell, Annetta-Claudia Nuuausala, Lorina Papali’i, Kahurangi Peters, Krystal Rota, Aieshaleigh Smalley, Masuisuimatamaalii (Sui) Tauasa-Pauaraisa, Crystal Tamarua, Alice Vailea, Langi Veainu, Shontelle Woodman

The Auckland Women’s representative team will face the New Zealand Warriors Women in a pair of warm-up matches ahead of the NRL Women’s Premiership kicking off in September.

On Friday, August 10, the two sides will play as the curtain-raiser to the men’s NRL clash at Mount Smart Stadium, before they meet again two weeks later on August 25, at a venue which will be announced at a later date.

Auckland Rugby League General Manager Greg Whaiapu said the games will showcase the depth of quality currently playing in Auckland’s Farrelly Photos women’s competitions.

“The majority of the Warriors’ squad for the NRL competition will be made up of players from our competitions, and it’s going to be exciting to see so many of our women take the field together when they play against Auckland,” Whaiapu said.

“Earning an Auckland jersey is always an honour, and for the ladies selected it will serve as a reward for their efforts this season.

“It’s also another chance for them to show their talents and push their claims for higher honours next year.”

The matches are the latest addition to the Auckland Rugby League’s female programme, which this year has included opening up the renowned JETS Development Camp to girls, the introduction of a new U13 girls’ grade at club level and the Auckland Vulcans contesting the National Women’s Tournament.Later this season the ARL will also co-host an end-of-season women’s nine-aside tournament for clubs and tertiary institutions, and send Auckland Vulcans Development age-grade girls sides down to the Waikato for representative matches.