Football Ferns captain Ali Riley admits that genuine competition for places within the squad is vital, if the team is to progress on the world stage.
The Ferns, who start a new era under coach Jitka Klimkova with games against Canada on Sunday (8am NZT) and Wednesday (12:30pm NZT), have been perennial underachievers over the last decade or so, regularly qualifying for World Cups and Olympic Games – via direct entry as the dominant force in Oceania – but then struggling to make a mark at the big tournaments.
The nadir was probably the 2019 Women's World Cup, when after an extended buildup, which included wins over Argentina, England and Norway, New Zealand couldn't rise to the occasion in France.
They lost all three matches – including a defeat to Cameroon, one of the lowest-ranked nations (world No 46) at the tournament, and only scored once (an own goal).
Across the last decade the team has been almost a closed shop, with few new players coming to the fore. During that period 11 players have eclipsed a century of caps for New Zealand, while three others have accumulated more than 70 games.
It's partly down to the small pool of professional players available, but also because successive coaches have been remarkably loyal to the same core group, rather than taking a chance on a new generation.
Riley, who has accumulated 137 caps since her debut in 2007, admits that situation has to change.
"[Competition] is so important and that's the only way we are going to get better," said Riley. "It's not saying that the players who have been picked over and over again – the last five years, the last 10 years some of us – don't deserve it, [because] if you see what our players have been doing when they are not with the national team, getting into better clubs, pushing themselves to be in the best individual environment.
"You have seen that personal growth from the players that who have been on the team for a long time. But of course you need fresh faces, you need to have competition in training, players that are going to come in and fight for spots and that is what we are seeing at the moment.
"I'm really impressed, because these are players that might not necessarily have got a chance if the quarantine situation had been different and they have been working so hard."
With Australasian-based players out of the picture, the 22-strong squad to face Olympic champions Canada features six uncapped players and another half a dozen with only six internationals or less.
Klimkova agrees that broadening the base – and creating some selection uncertainty – is vital in the build up to the 2023 World Cup.
"We are competing at these sessions," said Klimkova. "There is a competitive mindset in our team and that is what I expect from everyone. It doesn't matter if you are young or more experienced; that is the standard that we want to set in this team, the players are competing and pushing themselves. If they push themselves they are pushing everybody around them.
"It's not really about age, it's not really about experience, it's about the team that is going to do the best when they are on the field."
Klimkova said the main focus over the two-game series with Canada, who are ranked sixth in the world (New Zealand is No 23), was to implement and refine their style of play, with and without the ball.
Riley, who has witnessed many fresh starts during her Ferns career, is bullish about the future.
"We have refreshed our principles as a team, and our identity and that is one part of it; respecting the opportunity to wear the badge," said Riley.
"I really hope you will see a recharged version of the Football Ferns; this is just the beginning but the energy is completely different and a lot of that you can attribute to the players who are in this camp for the first time."
Football Ferns vs Canada
Sunday, 8:00am (NZT), Ottawa, Ontario
Wednesday, 12:30pm (NZT), Montreal, Quebec