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She donned the Kiwi Ferns jersey for the first time in the opening Women’s Rugby League World Cup match against Canada, and the surroundings were all too familiar for Nita Maynard.

The New Zealand international women’s side recently expanded their selection process to Australian-based Kiwis, and Maynard is a beneficiary of that after a stellar season running around with current Jillaroos in the Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership and in various exhibition matches for the Cronulla Sharks.

She played a key role for Cronulla-Caringbah this season in a side that included Corban McGregor, Talesha Quinn, Allana Ferguson, and rising-star Jessica Sergis, who have all been in the frame for the Jillaroos in the past year.

That experience has been invaluable for Maynard, who can’t wait to play the home side should they meet in the finals.

“I got to train with them a few times prior to the World Cup, it’s been really been a good environment playing here for the Sharks,” Maynard says.

“They’re really supportive, hopefully it comes off as a New Zealand versus Australia grand final like everyone wants.

“Off the field we’re really good friends, but on the field it’s a different story.”

While it’s a wonderful experience playing a World Cup at home despite playing for an away side, she did have to adapt to the New Zealand style of play, particularly as she has never played at international level before.

She came off the bench against Canada and slotted into dummy half, and she’s worked hard with regular hooker Krystal Rota to ensure the team is suited to their complimentary styles of play.

“It’s been a really fast-tracked four weeks,” Maynard says.

“We’ve been travelling every weekend to play trial games and eventually I got called into the squad.

“Once I got called into the squad the girls welcomed us with open arms and made us feel really welcome, they are more than eager to help us learn all of the moves for the plays that they’ve already come up with.

“Last week we [Maynard and Rota] had our first unofficial game together and she gave me a lot of tips about how they might play how I just need play my own game; we have different styles so I try and add a little bit of spark when I get on.”

It was easy to feel the pride and sense how close the New Zealand side are before a ball was even kicked in the World Cup.

A mishap during the national anthems meant there was no backing track for New Zealand, but that didn’t worry the team, who proudly belted out the anthem that echoed all around Southern Cross Group Stadium.

“That is a representation of our team in general,” Maynard says.

“We all band together and really have each other’s backs on and off the field, and it really showed when we sang the anthem.”

When Maynard ran on in the 25th minute, the support she had in the stands was immediately evident as voices of support were heard in all corners.

A nervous start saw a forward pass with her first touch, but she dusted herself off to play an important role in New Zealand’s 50-4 victory.

“I was a bit excited and I held the ball a bit too long,” Maynard chuckles.

“It was probably not the best way to come on but you live and learn, I didn’t make a mistake after that which I was happy with.

“I have a lot of support here because I live here, I had quite a bit of family in the stands, and I have a little one as well who was there watching and cheering.”

Maynard and New Zealand’s next game is this Sunday against the Cook Islands at Southern Cross Group Stadium.

Acknowledgement of Country

New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.