Waikato women back in NPC after six years
Waikato Rugby Union will field a team in the women's NPC this year for the first time in six years.
The move follows the University of Waikato club successfully fielding a team in the Auckland women's club competition last season, where they finished third, and the expansion to two teams this year.
Waikato Rugby Union chief executive Graham Bowen said the union was delighted to be able to enter a team in the NPC after a six-year absence.
"This is a result of the very hard work that a group of Waikato University women have put in to get us in a position to support a provincial team," Bowen said.
"Some time ago Waikato was one of the strongest provinces in women's rugby and we're pleased that it's showing signs of rejuvenation."
Waikato will join Auckland, Manawatu, Hawke's Bay, Canterbury and Wellington in this year's national women's competition. Coaches and managers are currently being sought by the union.
While Waikato will initially draw their players from the two University club sides playing in this season's Auckland competition, University Rugby Club manager Crystal Kaua said they would also look to draft some players from other regions.
Otago are not fielding an NPC team this year and Waikato will have the ability to bring in one player from any other region for every three players selected from within the province.
The relaunching of the Waikato representative team would provide a much-needed pathway for schoolgirl and club players.
"People want to have something to aspire to and there's been nothing here for so long," she said.
The previous demise of the Waikato NPC team brought an end to the province's club competition, but Kaua who together with her New Zealand Maori Sevens team-mates and Black Ferns Victoria Grant and Teresa Te Tamaki launched the University women's team last year, believes a resurgence is on the cards.
"It's only really come back in the last two years but I can definitely see [a time when Waikato will again have its own competition]," Kaua said.
"We're going to look to have a pre-Auckland competition next year to try and encourage some of the other clubs around the region to put a team together, only for a six-week period though so it's not so hard on the clubs.
"We'll see how that goes and then slowly build from there. We're looking at country towns like Huntly, Putaruru and Tokoroa who will be able to do something with that kind of time line rather than having to go the whole hog with a 20-week season when they're not really ready for it."
University are currently preparing their two teams for a May 21 start to the Auckland competition and have a wealth of talented players to choose from.
In addition to Black Ferns captain Grant, Te Tamaki and Kaua, Black Ferns World Cup star Carla Hohepa who previously played for Otago while at university there, has returned from the birth of her first child and will play for the club, along with Black Ferns loose forward Amanda Murphy, who has moved up from Canterbury to study at Wintec.