The Niue women's rugby league team are gearing up for their first 13-a-side international match in almost two decades when they play Tonga in Auckland next month.
The island nations will go head to head in the curtain-raiser to the clash between the Kiwi Ferns and Fetū Samoa on 7 November at Mount Smart Stadium, in the first test matches to be played since the outbreak of Covid-19.
Secretary of Auckland Niue Rugby League, Phillip Tasmania, said the women's game was a massive opportunity for the country.
"It's been fantastic during the initial negotiations with New Zealand Rugby League who invited us. We said yes straight away because we knew that this was going to be our biggest game for our fifine Niue ever on a stage of this scale," he said.
"We can not remember the last time a Niuean rugby league team, male or female, was live on a media format like Sky [Sport]. Our people in Niue are going to be watching on the day and that's really momentous for us."
Niue have not featured in a full women's international since competing at the 2003 World Cup in New Zealand, while a women's team made their debut at the Cabramatta Nines in Sydney last year before competing at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa.
Niue Women wrap up 5th place & first victory at @samoa2019 Rugby League 9’s with a 22 - 0 victory over the Solomon Islands who take 6th playing in first ever tournament as a team. Well done to both teams #Samoa2019 #PacificGames #rugbyleague #rugbyleague9s #oneinspirit pic.twitter.com/FrKXNWG5Ch— Asia Pacific Rugby League (@asiapacificrl) July 9, 2019
The genesis of the women's team was formed under Niue's Sydney chapter, but with international borders still closed, Auckland Niue Rugby League have been charged with putting a team on the paddock.
Tasmania said players were getting in contact as soon as the announcement was made.
"Last year they [Niue Rugby League Australia] started the game with the women's, off the back of all the work that we've been doing with the women here as well, so there is a good player pool here in New Zealand," he said.
"As soon as we made the announcement we had players put their hand up to represent Niue. We're talking to players in all age groups and both codes of rugby and rugby league, because some girls have made themselves available for this match just to represent our people."
"Our Niue community is primarily based in Auckland, but we've gone out to the regions and we've been pretty successful with a number of players still talking with us from Wellington, the South Island and Northland."
He confirmed a handful of players were also up for New Zealand selection.
"They've learnt how to play rugby league in this country, in Auckland, and some of the girls are from the city clubs like Richmond and Ponsonby, so we've given the green light for them to go for it."
"Niue is okay with that. We've told them to go for it but they know where we are if they don't make that Kiwi Ferns squad."
Despite having a short turnaround to prepare for the fixture, Tasmania said Niue would give it "everything they've got" when they go up against their Tongan counterparts on the day.
"I know they are very well organised because we work quite closely with the [Hakula Tonga Aotearoa Rugby League Inc] leadership here. They're not giving much away and neither are we, but we consider this match to be a step forward for Niue and our Pacific Island nations."
"It's going to be massive. We've compared it to pretty much the 80's and 90's of the Kiwi's v the Kangaroo's, us being the Kiwi's and them being the Kangaroo's, and if you look at it like that in terms of player numbers and player pool, we are the smaller population."
Tasmania said NZRL's high performance manager Motu Tony and head of women's rugby league Luisa Avaiki were also supportive in helping them prepare for the match.
"They're both Tagata Niue, they both have Niuean heritage and they've been giving us tips and advice which has been really beneficial."
"It's a new level for us and I have to admit NZRL should get credit for putting on this women's game because they see value in the female space, especially when a small nation like Niue never gets looked at."
Auckland Niue Rugby League announced experienced domestic coach, Phil Gordon, to take charge of the women's team.
The Kiwi's under 16s and current Akarana men's coach will be joined by a diverse coaching line-up expected to be announced later this week.
The squad will be named on the Monday prior to the game, with the Kiwi Ferns getting first selection on the Sunday.