A couple of the Black Ferns' newer faces will be hoping to lock in a permanent spot in the pack before the end of the year.
The contracted players completed a three-day camp in Auckland on Tuesday, their first since the Covid-19 lockdown and also first without experienced lock Charmaine Smith, who has retired due to a neck problem.
Canterbury's Chelsea Bremner and Bay of Plenty's Kelsie Wills are emerging as the leading contenders to replace Smith in what is an important preparation year ahead of the 2021 World Cup in New Zealand. The uncapped Bremner is excited by the opportunity but also feels for Smith.
"She was definitely a key player, especially in the lineouts, which is where I really look up to her. She's just so dominant with her calling and movement within the lineouts, so I know she'll be really missed in the team," Bremner said.
"It's bittersweet, but there's definitely that opportunity now, so I just need to step it up."
While both Bremner and Wills are inexperienced in the Black Ferns environment, coach Glenn Moore is optimistic about their potential.
"Chelsea had a big year last year and Kelsie Wills is really starting to come along, she's a tall athlete and an athletic lock. It's a big blow losing Charmaine, but they're the situations we're always faced with and the good thing is we've had good people come along underneath and be integrated into our wider group."
The most experienced lock in the Black Ferns squad is being used as a valuable sounding board for Bremner and Wills. Eloise Blackwell has been a mainstay since her 2011 debut, playing 43 tests — many alongside Smith. Bremner would love the chance to partner Blackwell at test level.
"She's definitely one of the key senior players. Everyone looks up to her. She's just a really solid player and always there for me if I need any help with anything," Bremner said.
The Black Ferns were scheduled to host the United States in Dunedin next weekend and then play seven more tests this year but Covid-19 ruined those plans. Moore is hopeful matches against Australia can be arranged.