Demant and Simon to lead fresh-faced Black Ferns' squad

Wed, Jun 7
Black Ferns co-captains Kennedy Simon, left, and Ruahei Demant lift the World Cup after their dramatic final victory over England last year.

There are nine debutants in the first Black Ferns squad of the year, which will be co-captained by first-five Ruahei Demant and loose forward Kennedy Simon.

The team kicks off their season at the end of the month with the opening test for the Pacific Four Series and O'Reilly Cup against Australia in Brisbane on June 29.

Black Ferns coach Allan Bunting has named 30 players in the squad, which will contest the trans-Tasman series and the Pacific Four against Canada and the US in Ottawa before returning home to play in Hamilton at the end of September against Australia.

Uncapped front rowers Grace Gago, Kate Henwood and Esther Faiaoga-Tilo have been named, while Matatū Player of the Year Lucy Jenkins joins the loose forwards.

In the backline, halfback Iritana Hohaia and first five-eighth Rosie Kelly are set to make their debuts, while Chiefs Manawa outside backs Tenika Willison and Mererangi Paul will get a chance to show their talent on the international stage.

In line to become a dual international and rounding out the debutants is outside back and former New Zealand Rugby League Kiwi Fern Katelyn Vahaakolo.

Bunting said he and assistant coaches Steve Jackson, Tony Christie and Mike Delany, have been impressed with how the uncapped players have taken their opportunity.

"These players have impressed us across Sky Super Rugby Aupiki, but more importantly have joined our Black Ferns environment and taken the opportunity to put their best foot forward to wear the black jersey. We are excited to see their progression this year," Bunting said.

The squad was named at Hamilton Girls' High School, the former school of Simon, rookie Willison and Kelsey Teneti, who returns to the 15s format following a successful season with the Black Ferns Sevens.

Bunting said Demant (Te Whanau a Apanui, Te Whakatōhea, Ngāti Awa) and Simon (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Māhanga) were inspirational in their leadership of the Black Ferns throughout last year's World Cup winning campaign.

"Ruahei and Kennedy, are inspiring wāhine and complement one another with their leadership style. Their trust, clear communication and leading actions provides us with a strong platform to continue to build as a team."

Super Rugby Aupiki champions Matatū are strongly represented with eleven players named in the squad.

The Blues and Chiefs Manawa are evenly represented, with seven players from each side and Hurricanes Poua has four notable standouts.

Eight provincial unions, spanning from Northland to Canterbury, are represented in the 30-player squad.

Sylvia Brunt is the youngest of the squad at 19, while Chiefs Manawa prop Henwood is the eldest at 34.

Sylvia Brunt makes a break for the Black Ferns against Wales during last year's World Cup.

With the retirement of Black Ferns legends Kendra Cocksedge and Renee Woodman-Wickliffe, Demant is now the highest capped player with 26 appearances.

Grace Brooker returns from injury to be named in the Black Ferns squad for the first time since 2021, alongside Black Ferns Sevens player Teneti who makes the transition back to the 15s format following her debut at last year's Pacific Four Series.

"Grace has been inspirational in her return to the game. Her energy is contagious, and it has been great to see her back in our Black Ferns environment," said Bunting.

"Kelsey has been a part of the 2023 Black Ferns Sevens campaign and while she is still putting her hand up for the 2024 Paris Olympics, she is a talented midfielder and is eager to grow her fifteens game with her sights on the 15s Rugby World Cup. Both Cory (Sweeney, Black Ferns Sevens head coach) and I are supportive of this and look forward to seeing her on the field developing her game," added Bunting.

Bunting is focused on using the Pacific Four Series as an opportunity to build depth within the Black Ferns, ensuring they qualify for WXV1.

"We are excited for the 2023 Test schedule with the Pacific Four Series and O'Reilly Cup. While we are playing the Pacific Four Series abroad, we will be challenging ourselves to build our team and encourage our fans to join us on this journey."

Hamilton will host the Black Ferns for the first time since 2013 for final O'Reilly Cup Test.

"We are looking forward to returning to play the final O'Reilly Cup test in Hamilton. It will be a fantastic opportunity for whānau and fans to see the team in action for the first time on home soil this season."

The Black Ferns squad (Age/Super Club/Province/Test caps):

Loosehead Props

Kate Henwood (34, Chiefs Manawa, Bay of Plenty, new cap)

Krystal Murray (29, Hurricanes Poua, Northland, 9)

Philippa Love (33, Matatū, Canterbury, 25)


Georgia Ponsonby (23, Matatū, Canterbury, 13)

Grace Gago (25, Blues, Counties Manukau, new cap)

Luka Connor (26, Chiefs Manawa, Bay of Plenty, 14)

Tighthead Props

Amy Rule (22, Matatū, Canterbury, 12)

Esther Faiaoga-Tilo (28, Blues, Waikato, new cap)

Tanya Kalounivale (24, Chiefs Manawa, Waikato, 6)


Chelsea Bremner (27, Chiefs Manawa, Canterbury, 12)

Joanah Ngan Woo (26, Hurricanes Poua, Wellington, 17)

Maiakawanakaulani Roos (21, Blues, Auckland, 14)

Loose Forwards

Alana Bremner (26, Matatū, Canterbury, 13)

Kendra Reynolds (30, Matatū, Bay of Plenty, 9)

Kennedy Simon (26, Chiefs Manawa, Waikato, 13) - Co-Captain

Liana Mikaele Tu'u (21, Blues, Auckland, 11)

Lucy Jenkins (22, Matatū, Canterbury, new cap)


Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu (31, Chiefs Manawa, Counties Manukau, 12)

Iritana Hohaia (23, Hurricanes Poua, Taranaki, new cap)

First Five-Eighths

Rosie Kelly (23, Matatū, Canterbury, new cap)

Ruahei Demant (27, Blues, Auckland, 26) - Co-Captain


Amy du Plessis (23, Matatū, Canterbury, 7)

Grace Brooker (23, Matatū, Canterbury, 3)

Kelsey Teneti (20, Waikato, 1)

Logo-I-Pulotu Lemapu Atai'i (Sylvia) Brunt (19, Blues, Auckland, 7)

Outside Backs

Ayesha Leti-I'iga (24, Hurricanes Poua, Wellington, 21)

Katelyn Vahaakolo (23, Blues, Auckland, new cap)

Mererangi Paul (24, Chiefs Manawa, Counties Manukau, new cap)

Renee Holmes (23, Matatū, Waikato, 10)

Tenika Willison (25, Chiefs Manawa, Waikato, new cap)

Unavailable for selection due to injury: Awhina Tangen Wainohu (neck), Charmaine McMenamin (concussion), Hazel Tubic (knee), Layla Sae (ankle), Patricia Maliepo (foot), Santo Taumata (knee).

Unavailable for selection due to sabbatical: Ruby Tui.


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