The Manawatu Cyclones are promising a more competitive edge in the women's national provincial competition this season.
After a bye in the first round, the Cyclones start their campaign against Waikato at FMG Stadium tomorrow at noon.
Last year Manawatu did not win a game and had one draw but things are looking good this year for coach John Kendal with a positive pre-season under the belt.
"There's certainly a good feeling in the camp in terms of the way the ladies are training," he said. "Quietly confident, we'll open the campaign really well and we have to do that for the self-belief and put the message out there that we're contenders this year."
The opening-round matches were all tight, including Otago upsetting Wellington, so the Cyclones were eager to get out and play.
"We've got a sharp step up quickly with Auckland and Canterbury in week three and four. Have to get up to speed. I believe and Stu believes, we can get over one of those big teams. Need to do that if you're going to be a realistic chance of the playoffs."
Manawatu had a rough run last year as they suffered heavy losses to Wellington (58-8), Auckland (70-5) and Canterbury (65-7).
Kendal says these are still fresh in the memory so they are keen to redeem themselves.
Assistant coach Stu Ross watched Waikato beat Hawke's Bay 34-24 in Hamilton last week, so they know what to expect from Waikato who have re-entered the NPC.
"They've got a classy midfield but coming back into the competition after a three or four-year break takes a little bit to find their feet," Kendal said.
"We'll use that to our advantage. Having a game under their belt they'll be feeling confident. For us, we're the only union that the women's team play on the No 1 ground at the stadium. We'll use that as motivation. The other unions put you on the back blocks somewhere."
Prop Ruth McKay is the captain after a year away training for the Coast to Coast.
Amy Cokayne, Crystal Mayes, Zoe Whatarau and Hayley Hutana from Feilding High School are in the team.
Along with New Zealand players Selica Winiata at first-five, Sarah Goss at second-five and Shakira Baker at centre, Manawatu have a powerful backline. But Kendal believes their experienced forward pack will be able to compete with any team in the competition.
Fullback Steph Downer has a back injury while lock Ebony Low and second-five Aimee Gilbert are away trialling with the New Zealand league squad.
Manawatu Cyclones: 1 Ruth McKay, 2 Amy Cokayne, 3 Crystal Niutama, 4 Sarah McLeod, 5 Nicole Dickins, 6 Zoe Whatarau, 7 Cynthia Ries-Rupapera, 8 Christie Yule, 9 Kristina Sue, 10 Selica Winiata, 11 Crystal Mayes, 12 Sarah Goss, 13 Shakira Baker, 14 Wairakau Greig, 15 Tatiana Tafatu.
Reserves: 16 Ricki Rawleigh, 17 Nicci Kuiti, 18 Marina Canterbury, 19 Hayley Hutana, 20 Amy Williams, 21 Whanda Leota, 22 Kylie Winiata.
- Manawatu Standard