Hawke's Bay Tui rugby centre Michaela Baker reckons she may have harmed her chances of Black Ferns selection when she returned to Spain last month.
Baker went to Spain last year and played for the championship-winning CRATA Coruna side. She missed the Tui side's 55-5 win against Tasman and 34-26 loss to Otago while in Spain earlier this season.
"Things didn't work out as planned so I'm back, fizzing and ready for semifinal footy," Baker said during the countdown to the Big Barrel Tui side's Farah Palmer Cup Championship semifinal against Northland Kauri at Napier's McLean Park tomorrow.
It's ideal timing for Baker, 25, as the Black Ferns selectors will certainly take into consideration semifinal and final performances before naming their training squad for next year. Although she played first five-eighth in Spain and outside back when she played for the Tui in 2011 and '12 as well as during 23 matches for Otago from 2013 to '16 while attending university in Dunedin Baker prefers centre.
"It's good having Sylvia [first five-eighth Bockman] and Chanel [second five-eighth Atkin] inside me. I first played with them in 2011 for Tech," Baker said referring to the Napier Technical side which won their first Hawke's Bay women's championship with an 18-14 win against Hastings Rugby and Sports in the final when Baker played fullback and was among the Texans tryscorers.
The former Napier Girls' High School student is optimistic about the Tui team's chances of returning to the winning path tomorrow.
"We just need to get the ball out wide and with the weather coming right we will be able to do that."
With her overseas playing stints finished Baker is back with the Tui for good and eager to secure a job as well as Black Ferns selection.
"Anything working with children out in the community will be good. It's good to be home and with the training facilities available to us at the Hawke's Bay union's new community centre there are good benefits which go with that," Baker added.
Tui head coach Steve Woods will start regular loosie Kathleen Brown at tighthead prop for the first time this season. Woods believes she has the ability to crack the Black Ferns squad in this position.
"Kathleen wants it that bad and will move to any position to do it," Woods said.
Brown has had scrummaging sessions with former Chiefs and Magpies prop David Briggs and Magpies scrum coach Francisco Deformes during the past fortnight.
"Technique and power ... Kathleen ticks all the boxes to go to the next level," Woods said.
Black Ferns first five-eighth Krysten Cottrell has been bracketed with Shaylee Tipiwai for the Tui fullback role. She isn't fully recovered from a knee injury collected in the October 5 loss to Otago and a final decision on her availability will be made tomorrow.
"I'm leaving it to her. Krysten knows her body and won't play if she isn't right ... we would rather save her for the final," the confident Woods said.
"These girls really want to be in the final. We gave them last weekend off but they still trained individually. Some of them did some hard yards at their own accord ... that's how much they want it," Woods said.
Northland are again expected to use their first five-eighth-second five-eighth combination of Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali and Kararaina Wira-Kohu to spark their attacks as they did in their 64-31 loss to the Tui at Park Island last month. The Tui defence will have to do a better job on Kauri winger Savannah Bodman who scored a hattrick in that encounter.
Former Kiwi Ferns rugby league representative Krystal Murray, who will play at No 8 for the visitors, openside flanker Tui McGeorge and captain and hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate are the Kauri forwards who command plenty of respect.
Teams for the 2.05pm clash:
Hawke's Bay Tui: Krysten Cottrell/Shaylee Tipiwai, Cortez Te Pou, Michaela Baker, Chanel Atkin, Tori Iosefo, Sylvia Bockman, Emma Jensen, Gemma Woods (co-captain), Niamh Jefferson, Hanna Brough (co-captain), Liana Mikaele-Tu'u, Te Aroha Hunt, Kathleen Brown, Forne Burkin, Whitley Mareikura. Substitutes: Lukika Faavae, Moomooga Palu, Jennifer Simati, Te Maari MacGregor, Felicity Powdrell, Teagan Powdrell, Tipiwai/Holly Macdonald.
Northland Kauri: Stacey Tupe, Savannah Bodman, Cheryl Murray, Kararaina Wira-Kohu, Leilani Erwin, Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali, Manaia Webb, Krystal Murray, Tui McGeorge, Mia Anderson, Eva Fulton, Patricia Vaka, Helen Kapa, Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate (captain), Kamila Wihongi. Substitutes: Justice Karena, Bronwyn Hames, Kahurangi Shelford, Naomi Judd, Amanda Nepia, Tyler Nankivell, Jamiee Brown.