Rising five-eighth Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly scored two tries and set up another on debut as the New Zealand Kiwi Ferns proved too powerful against a Fetu Samoa invitational side 28-8 at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday.
In a week when the Kiwi Ferns were celebrating 25 years of rich history, an inexperienced New Zealand outfit put on a show in front of past players who proved unstoppable across two decades from 1995.
The game also marked the only international fixture scheduled on the rugby league calendar this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently appointed coach Ricky Henry turned to 11 debutants from New Zealand’s local and domestic competitions with several stars including Georgia Hale, Amber Hall and Raecene McGregor unavailable.
Fielding just five players who played in last year’s Test match loss to the Jillaroos in October, fill-in halves Stephens-Daly and Karlee Hansen impressed to help give Henry his first victory in charge of the national team and food for thought ahead of the 2021 World Cup.
A rugby sevens convert from Bay of Plenty, Stephens-Daly’s double set up a commanding 24-4 lead midway through the second half in a scrappy performance in wet conditions.
Stephens-Daly was well supported by Hansen, opened the scoring for the Kiwi Ferns in the third minute with a crafty chip-and-chase but failed to finish the game with a knee injury in a concern for Henry.
The power of Kiwi Ferns veteran Honey Hireme-Smiler, returning from a knee injury, was on display with the star centre causing nightmares out wide next to Katelyn Vaha’akolo, who also crossed for a try in her maiden appearance.
Back-to-back penalties to Fetu Samoa, who too were made up of local New Zealand-based Samoan players due to border restrictions, enabled the visitors to get on the board through Ricshay Lemanu.
The Fetu Samoan playmaker Lemanu took her opportunity against classy defenders Hireme-Smiler and Krystal Rota to bamboozle the pair close to the line with a dummy.
Fetu Samoa centre Leianne Tufuga was next to cross for the side in a spirited finish for the visitors, who improved overall after last year’s corresponding 46-8 result.
Kiwi Ferns back-rower Crystal Tamarua, coming off a 14-day quarantine after her NRLW stint with the Warriors in Australia, crossed before the full-time siren in a well-deserved try late to seal the win.