Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
Global Global

Black Ferns usher in new era with first squad of 2023

By Kim Ekin
The Black Ferns sing the national anthem prior to the World Cup semi-final. Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

A new era for the Rugby World Cup winning Black Ferns is underway with the first squad named today ahead of their opening Test for the Pacific Four Series and O’Reilly Cup against Australia in Brisbane later this month.


Black Ferns Director of Rugby Allan Bunting has named 30 players in the squad to compete abroad in Brisbane and Ottawa, before returning home to play in front of fans at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton at the end of September.

The first Black Ferns Squad for 2023 was fittingly named today at Hamilton Girls’ High School, the former High School of Black Ferns Co-Captain Kennedy Simon, rookie Tenika Willison and Kelsey Teneti who returns to the fifteens format following a successful season with the Black Ferns Sevens.

Video Spacer

Video Spacer

Ruahei Demant (Te Whanau a Apanui, Te Whakat?hea, Ng?ti Awa) and Kennedy Simon (Ng?ti Maniapoto, Ng?ti M?hanga) were inspirational in their leadership of the Black Ferns throughout last year’s campaign, Black Ferns Director of Rugby Allan Bunting has once again appointed the duo to lead the new squad

“Ruahei and Kennedy, are inspiring w?hine and complement one another with their leadership style. Their trust, clear communication and leading actions provides us with a strong platform to continue to build as a team.”

2023 Sky Super Rugby Aupiki champions Matat? are strongly represented with eleven players named in this year’s Black Ferns squad. The Blues and Chiefs Manawa are evenly represented, with seven players from each side and Hurricanes Poua has four notable standouts.

Eight Provincial Unions, spanning from Northland to Canterbury, are proudly represented in the 30-player squad. Sylvia Brunt is the youngest of the squad at 19, whilst incoming debutant Kate Henwood is the eldest at 34. With the retirement of Black Ferns legends Kendra Cocksedge and Renee Woodman-Wickliffe, Demant is now the highest capped player with 26 caps to her name


Following an entertaining Sky Super Rugby Aupiki competition, form has been rewarded with all nine debutants providing eye-catching performances throughout the competition. In the front row Grace Gago, Henwood and Esther Faiaoga-Tilo are named, while Matat? Player of the Year Lucy Jenkins joins the loose forwards. In the backline, halfback Iritana Hohaia and first five-eighth Rosie Kelly receive the call up, while Chiefs Manawa outside backs Tenika Willison and Mererangi Paul will get a chance to show their talent on the international stage. In line to become a dual international, former New Zealand Rugby League Kiwi Fern Katelyn Vahaakolo rounds out the selected debutants.

Speaking of the debutants, Bunting said he, along with Assistant Coaches Steve Jackson, Tony Christie and Mike Delany, have been impressed with how they have taken hold of their opportunity.

“These players have impressed us across Sky Super Rugby Aupiki, but more importantly have joined our Black Ferns environment and taken the opportunity to put their best foot forward to wear the black jersey. We are excited to see their progression this year.”

Grace Brooker returns from injury to be named in the Black Ferns squad for the first time since 2021, alongside Black Ferns Sevens player Kelsey Teneti who makes the transition back to the fifteens format following her debut at last year’s Pacific Four Series.


“Grace has been inspirational in her return to the game. Her energy is contagious, and it has been great to see her back in our Black Ferns environment,” said Bunting

“Kelsey has been a part of the 2023 Black Ferns Sevens campaign and while she is still putting her hand up for the 2024 Paris Olympics, she is a talented midfielder and is eager to grow her fifteens game with her sights on the 15s Rugby World Cup. Both Cory (Sweeney, Black Ferns Sevens Head Coach) and I are supportive of this and look forward to seeing her on the field developing her game,” added Bunting.

Bunting is focused on using the Pacific Four Series as an opportunity to build depth within the Black Ferns, ensuring they qualify for WXV1.

“We are excited for the 2023 Test schedule with the Pacific Four Series and O’Reilly Cup. While we are playing the Pacific Four Series abroad, we will be challenging ourselves to build our team and encourage our fans to join us on this journey.”

Hamilton will host the Black Ferns for the first time since 2013 for final O’Reilly Cup Test

“We are looking forward to returning to play the final O’Reilly Cup test in Hamilton. It will be a fantastic opportunity for wh?nau and fans to see the team in action for the first time on home soil this season.”

Black Ferns squad

Loosehead props

Kate Henwood (new cap)

Krystal Murray (9 caps)

Philippa Love (25)


Georgia Ponsonby (13)

Grace Gago (new cap)

Luka Connor (14)

Tighthead props

Amy Rule (12)

Esther Faiaoga-Tilo (new cap)

Tanya Kalounivale (6)


Chelsea Bremner (12)

Joanah Ngan Woo (17)

Maiakawanakaulani Roos (14)

Loose forwards

Alana Bremner (13)

Kendra Reynolds (9)

Kennedy Simon (13) (cc)

Liana Mikaele Tu’u (11)

Lucy Jenkins (new cap)


Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu (12)

Iritana Hohaia (new cap)

First five-eighths

Rosie Kelly (new cap)

Ruahei Demant (26) (cc)


Amy du Plessis (7)

Grace Brooker (3)

Kelsey Teneti (1)

Logo-I-Pulotu Lemapu Atai’i (7)

Outside backs

Ayesha Leti’i’iga (21)

Katelyn Vahaakolo (new cap)

Mererangi Paul (new cap)

Renee Holmes (10)

Tenika Willison (new cap)

Unavailable due to injury: Awhina Tangen Wainohu, Charmaine McMenamin, Hazel Tubic, Layla Sae, Patricia Maliepo, Santo Taumata

Unavailable due to sabbatical: Ruby Tui

– Press release/ Zealand Rugby


Join free



Trending on RugbyPass


1 Comment
Jen 373 days ago

Hope they get plenty of games this season. Some good players in there.

Join free and tell us what you really think!

Sign up for free

Latest Features

Comments on RugbyPass

FEATURE Why Sebastian Cancelliere has fallen for Glasgow Why Sebastian Cancelliere has fallen for Glasgow