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New faces in Pride squad for FPC Championship tilt

Jackie Patea-Fereti gets her lineout ball down to halfback Milly Mackey in the Pride’s match against Hawke’s Bay last year. This game was at the Hutt Rec, but their home ground this season for three matches is Porirua Park. Photo: Andy McArthur.

  • By Scott MacLean

Late last week, Wellington Pride coach Fusi Feaunati named his squad for the Farah Palmer Cup. They should have a single goal in mind; to win the Championship division and make an immediate return to the Premiership after last year’s horror show that saw them go winless and were relegated before the last round of matches.

Feaunati’s squad of 29 players has plenty of churn from last year; amongst those not there this are reigning club Erin Rush Best & Fairest winner Justine McGregor (now in Bay of Plenty with the 7s setup), Feaunati’s niece Maddie (UK), first-five/fullback Arene Landon-Lane, prop Barbra Taumoli, and others like Ashlyn Pescini, Fa’alua Tugaga, Lyric Faleafaga, and Tamara Ruaporo who have either moved away or didn’t play locally this year.

Into the gap come 10 new players, with that group headlined by young talent in the form of Petone duo Keira Su’a-Smith and Litia Bulicakau, and Ories’ Sophia Ropeti (sister of Men’s Premier players Alex and Dom), with an older head in recent Manawatu and Manusina back Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga.

There is no shortage of experience in the squad either, with the list of those who have experienced international rugby including the ageless Jackie Patea-Fereti, World Cup winners Joanah Ngan-Woo and Ayesha Leti-l’iga, Monica Tagoai, a returning Shakira Baker, and Manusina’s Nina Foaese. Leti-l’iga’s return from an ACL tear last year has been promising so far, and the damage she could bring against sides like Taranaki and Tasman could be quite something.

There’s a curious mix to the squad however. Feaunati won’t be short for options in midfield, but Su’a-Smith and clubmate Milly Mackey are the only inside backs selected which raises interest in who their backups will be.

Champions Petone lead the way with 12 selectees, but all seven Wellington clubs from this season have at least one player in the squad.

Head coach Feaunati told Wellington’s Rugby’s media team last week the following:

“We are thrilled to announce the 2024 Wellington Pride squad, highlighting the inspiring local talent we have in our region. The talent identification and selection process was both efficient and thorough, drawing from an exciting season of club rugby in Wellington. The dedication and skill displayed by our players have been outstanding, and we look forward to the upcoming season. Our community can be proud of this impressive group of athletes.”

The Pride’s FPC season is (venues and times TBC):

10 August: Home vs Tasman (Porirua Park)
17 August: Away vs Taranaki
25 August: Home vs Manawatu (Porirua Park)
1 September: Home v North Harbour (Porirua Park)
7 September: Away vs Otago

Pride Squad (*denotes new cap):

Hookers: Alicia Print (Petone), Valini Vaka (Poneke/OBU)

Props: Harmony Kinloch* (Ories), Lavinia Lea (Petone), Paige Misky (Norths), Angelica Schwencke (Petone)

Locks: Eva Maora* (Petone), Joanah Ngan-Woo (Ories), Jackie Patea-Fereti (Petone), Tess Woldring* (Petone)

Loose Forwards: Hosanna Aumua (Avalon), Anyis Drossaerts-Lake* (Norths), Nina Foaese (Norths), Sinead To’ola-Ryder (Ories), Sophie Irving (Poneke/OBU)

Halfbacks: Milly Mackey (Petone)

First-Fives: Keira Su’a-Smith* (Petone)

Midfield: Shakira Baker (Pare-Plim), Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga* (Pare-Plim), Drenna Falaniko (Petone), Fa’asua Makisi (Ories), Fanua Rimoni* (Wainuiomata), Sophia Ropeti* (Ories), Monica Tagoai (Petone),

Outside backs: Litia Bulicakau* (Petone), Harmony Kautai (Petone), Ayesha Leti-l’iga (Ories), Ivana Samani (Ories), Billie Va’a* (Wainuiomata),

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