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'Created a fire': Waratahs out for revenge in Super W after finals upset

By AAP
Vitalina Naikore with ball in hand for the Fijiana Drua. Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images

After having their streak of four successive Super W titles snapped, the NSW Waratahs are embracing the underdog tag as they hunt another crown.

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The six-team tournament gets underway on Friday, with the Waratahs first-up hosting the Western Force.

Upset in last year’s grand final by newcomers Fijiana Drua, the Waratahs are determined to wrest back the title of Super W heavyweights.

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“It’s definitely created a fire in our bellies,” said new NSW captain Piper Duck.

“We’ve always been the defending (champions) whereas this year we’ve had to reshape what we’re looking for and here we are, chasing and it’s actually really exciting.

“It’s allowed us to look at what did and didn’t work and pick out the golden nuggets and revamp our style.”

The Waratahs have had a massive turnover of players, among the newcomers exciting 16-year-old fullback Caitlyn Halse.

Backrower Duck, who was part of the Wallaroos’ World Cup campaign last year, said Fijiana were again the team to beat.

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And she also thought the Western Force would be the big movers after some heavy recruitment including former Brumbies captain and Wallaroos second-rower Michaela Leonard and Japan Test lock Yuna Sato.

Fijiana winger Rachel Laqeretabua is also playing with the Perth team, who are looking to become a destination club after three winless seasons.

“Mac (Leonard) is an outstanding athlete and all of the people they have signed are outstanding and the fact they’re bringing in people to lift their standard is really exciting,” 23-year-old Duck said.

“We’re expecting a really physical, hard game.”

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Former Brumbies captain Leonard said she was enjoying a new voice in Force coach, ex-Wallaby and former Force men’s captain Matt Hodgson.

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“It’s always good having someone who’s been through the system and the experiences of being an athlete,” she said.

“So the enthusiasm is there, the passion is there, and the knowledge – he’s got a wealth of experience.”

The Brumbies also have a new coach in Scott Fava, also a former Test player, and have made plenty of changes to their squad, most notably in the forwards.

They have recruited World Cup-winning Black Ferns prop Amy Rule and Fijiana frontrower Iris Verebalavu to give themselves every chance of making the top-four playoffs, with the title decider in May in Townsville.

Queensland missed the grand final for the first time last season placing third, and are out to make their mark again.

With six Wallaroos up for selection, the Reds have retained a strong core group with some new faces including hooker Miki Trbojevic, a cousin of Manly NRL stars Tom and Jake Trbojevic

The Rebels went winless in 2022, their best result a draw with the Brumbies, and have a new coach in Jason Rogers and new captain in Wallaroos hooker Ashley Marsters.

A player to watch is Mia-Rae Clifford, who has joined Melbourne from the AFLW.

Duck said the international players joining the competition, which is now in its sixth year, would only lift the standard of play.

She hoped the Super W would soon include an international component with games against New Zealand teams.

‘The fact that we are lifting as a tournament and lifting as a rugby nation and sourcing things outside of that is truly great for the game,” she said.

“The level needs to keep improving and the only way we can do that is to keep looking outside ourselves.”

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