Bay of Plenty Volcanix head coach Rodney Gibbs has named his 2019 squad, one he believes can lift the Farah Palmer Cup.
The Volcanix begin their premiership campaign against Counties Manukau on August 31 and the team has been named on the back of a performance programme that began in November last year. The 30-woman squad has 17 players from last season returning to the blue and gold jersey as well as Black Fern Luka Connor who missed 2018 as she recovered from knee surgery.
Christie Yule will again lead the squad, as she has done the past two years, and will be joined by Black Ferns captain Les Elder as co-captain.
Elder led the Black Ferns to victory against Australia at Eden Park on Saturday but left the field before halftime with a knee injury. Gibbs confirmed Elder has a MCL injury but is a possibility to take part in the Volcanix season.
"Christie brings an element of experience from within the camp of over the last couple of years. She has a good understanding of the environment and is fairly ingrained in Bay of Plenty culture. The decision around Les is pretty self-explanatory, it is a good opportunity for her to continue her growth as a captain," Gibbs said of his two captains.
"It [co-captains] is also so they don't have the whole world on their shoulders. The reality is, with nature of the game, they are not always playing 80 minutes."
Alongside the familiar faces is a crop of new talent, charged with building the future of the Volcanix and injecting their enthusiasm into the team.
Some of the new talent expected to shine includes Commonwealth Games beach volleyballer Kelsie Wills, Youth Olympics sevens player Arorangi Tauranga, Trident High School's Layla Te Riini and powerful loose-forward Sela Motaane.
"They have energy, they are excited to learn and grow in the game," Gibbs says.
"We want to put good performances together but also grow over the next few years. There are some really good athletes in this team.
"Holding up the cup is the goal and we need to make sure we understand how we play the game. We have our own style and we have to have confidence in it. We won't be the biggest team, we have to get out there and give it our best shot."
Yule agrees the team is capable of winning the competition and is looking forward to what lies ahead.
"I am excited about enthusiasm and the unknown the young players bring. We have girls new to the Farah Palmer Cup and the opposition don't know about them. They work hard and are willing to express themselves.
"Gone are the days where just because you were picked in previous years it meant you would be picked the next year."
Gibbs and Yule expect a lift in the standard of the competition this year.
"The women's game has grown in the past couple of years and we have had things like increased publicity and I think girls want to prove how good they are," Yule says.
"We are training like we are getting paid and we are making every session matter. We are about growing the game in this region and we want to instil the pillars we are trying to put together for future years. We want this to be a landmark year."
Yule says wearing the blue and gold jersey is important to the players.
"We are so proud to be from Bay of Plenty and what it represents. We are spread out over the region, but when we come together we are proud what we are. It is about the people for us and we try to showcase that when we are out there as a team."
The Farah Palmer Cup premiership will have the top four teams progress to semifinals and dropping any more than two of the six games makes play-off chances dicey.
2019 Bay of Plenty Volcanix squad:
Forwards: Angel Mulu, Christine Corbett, Luka Connor, Lily Florence, Baye Jacob, Janina Khan, Kelsie Wills, Amanda Aldridge, Karli Faneva, Tracey Lemon, Christie Yule, Kendra Reynolds, Les Elder, Tynealle Fitzgerald, Natalie Delamere, Sela Moataane.
Backs: Jade Una Tuilaepa, Arorangi Tauranga, Mystery McLean Kora, Renee Wickliffe, Azalleyah Maaka, Tania-Rose Raharuhi, Danielle Paenga, Layla Te Riini, Autumn-Rain Stephens Daly, Olivia Richardson, Nadia Flavell, Natalie Walford, Sapphire Tapsell, Anahera Mohi.
Bay of Plenty Volcanix Farah Palmer Cup fixtures:
Week 1 vs Counties Manukau at Tauranga Domain, Tauranga - August 31, 2.30pm.
Week 2 vs Wellington at Jerry Collins Stadium, Porirua - September 7, 1pm.
Week 3 vs Auckland at Rugby Park, Whakatāne - September 14, 2.30pm.
Week 4 vs Waikato at FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton - September 21, 12.35pm.
Week 5 Bye.
Week 6 vs Manawatu at Tauranga Domain, Tauranga - October 5, 12.35pm.
Week 7 vs Canterbury at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch - October 13, 2.05pm.