Four years ago, when the Kiwi Ferns travelled to Australia to play a test, the whole team slept in one large room.

The squad had done fundraising, selling raffle tickets and hampers, and had to cover a lot of their travel and accommodation costs.

On the historic occasion of the first Warriors Women premiership match, against the Roosters today, it's worth reflecting on how far women's league in this country has come.

From the Kiwi Ferns' first test match in 1995, to the inaugural Women's World Cup in 2000, to playing Nines matches in front of 45,000 at Eden Park in 2014, there have been some quantum leaps over the last few decades.


But, even in 2014, things were vastly different from today.

"When I first started we paid our way to go over and play a test match against the Jillaroos," recalled Warriors halfback Georgia Hale. "There were 18 of us and all in one room, with triple bunk beds.

"It was a building on the back of a water ski holiday park, like a backpackers hostel.

"Bunk beds were stacked on top of each other and it was a case of shotgun for the best ones. The halfbacks were on the top, the forwards on the bottom bunks.

"It was a bit of a laugh and a memory I won't forget. Back then we were just so grateful to be representing our country."

Warriors hooker Krystal Rota remembered the endless fundraising before a team trip or tour.

"We are getting a bit of a salary now and we are grateful for that," said Rota. "It's a big step ahead as we are used to getting nothing. Everything you had to fully fund — your flights, accommodation, food.

"We did fundraising as a group; selling raffle tickets, hamper packs, Lotto bonuses, anything to make some money. And we had camps staying in a marae, home-cooked meals, crashing on mattresses. We have come a long way to now staying in the Novotel."


Hale and Rota are turning out for the Warriors in the four-team NRL Women's competition, with the Roosters, Dragons and Broncos.

It's a small-scale start, but is expected to grow over the coming years.

"We are not sure where it will go but's it a massive step," said Hale. "Maybe one day we could be professionals in a bigger competition — that's the ultimate dream. But this is such a big advance in the right direction and so exciting for the future."

Hale also points to the investment made by the Auckland Rugby League in recent years, to create genuine pathways in this country.

"We now have under-13, under-15 and under-17 grades," she said. "It means that girls can put their boots on when they are 5 years old and play league right through."

Rota and Hale are part of an all-international spine for the Warriors, with 2017 New Zealand Rugby League Player of the Year Apii Nicholls at fullback, and captain and Ferns legend Laura Mariu at five-eighth.

Coach Luisa Avaiki is promising a physical, yet disciplined, approach.

"That's been the perception over the last few years [that the Australian sides are fitter] but I don't think that will be the case in this competition," said Avaiki. "We've done plenty of work, though it is more challenging for our girls with all the travel."

They'll face a strong Roosters outfit today, with the New South Wales, Queensland and Australian captains on their roster.

The Sydney team will be slight favourites, but the Warriors don't lack for power or pace.

The competition also features some modified rules — games will be 60 minutes, with 10 interchanges and 40/30 kicks, rather than 40/20.

"We can't wait," said Rota. "It's going to be an incredible experience."