The Manawatu Cyclones women's rugby team will have to call on their depth this year without any of their New Zealand players.
The World Cup is on in France, which clashes with the start of the women's provincial season, and the New Zealand sevens players are not allowed to play any provincial rugby.
That means Manawatu will be without stars Selica Winiata, Sarah Goss, Shakira Baker, Ruth McKay, Hayley Hutana and Vaine Greig.
They will also lose five players who are in the New Zealand rugby league team for one round, away at a training camp.
Cyclones coach Jared Tuoro, back for his second year, will have a young squad this season.
"We were hoping to have a number back from last year, but we don't have as many as we would have hoped," he said. "We've got 10 back from last year."
Even though the sevens players are not allowed to play, "Selica Winiata said she's playing, and try stopping her from playing any rugby", Tuoro said.
Winiata, Baker and McKay are away with the Black Ferns at the World Cup in France and last season's captain, McKay, is retiring after the World Cup. Veteran first-five-eighth Rebecca Mahoney is working on her Pahiatua farm and has started refereeing, so may not play, and loose forward Katie Turnbull has been training, but is not sure if she will play because she may return to England mid-season.
Winger Wairakau Greig is back in Manawatu, based at Ohakea with the air force, but has a heavy workload. Midfielder Vaine Greig is still recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury and flanker Aroha Nuku is returning from a serious broken leg.
Winger Steph Downer is now playing in Waikato and hooker Amy Cokayne is back with her family in England, as is her father Ian, who was last year's manager.
Back from last year's successful season where they finished fourth are prop Rikki Rawleigh and Sita Kuruyabaki, lock Nicole Dickins, utility Ebony Low, flanker Christie Yule, halfback Kristina Sue, outside backs Krysten Duffill, Crystal Mayes, Kendall Templeman and Winiata.
With so many personnel changes, it could make for a hard year, but Tuoro was positive about things and said they had been training hard for the past two months.
"We've got a saying: get them 1 per cent better at every training. If we can do that and combine that together over the next two months, hopefully they're playing some good footy.
"I hope to be really competitive and I think the way the work ethic's going with some of these girls, we'll have a really good season."
The Cyclones have almost done a straight swap with the Turbos men's team in the coaching department.
Former Turbos assistant Wesley Clarke is now the Cyclones assistant, while last year's women's assistant Stu Ross is doing analysis for the men, as well as his work with the national women's sevens team.
This year Taranaki are not entering a team, but Hawke's Bay are back and Bay of Plenty are in the competition this year.
The Cyclones have a pre-season match against Bay of Plenty in Taupo and another against Hawke's Bay in Napier.
The women's competition will have a televised game each round this year, with Manawatu likely to have two - both home games against Wellington and Auckland.
- Manawatu Standard
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