New Zealand Women Ready To Defend

Triple national representative Laura Mariu will pull on the black jersey for the Kiwi Ferns this month in defence of the Women's Rugby League World Cup title won by New Zealand three years ago.

The North Harbour Stadium and surrounding North Shore Domain in Albany provide the venue for the nine-team 2003 tournament which kicks off on September 28 and culminates in the final on October 12.

A New Zealand Maori side will also compete in the World Cup along with sides from Australia, Cook Islands, Great Britain & Ireland, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau Islands and Tonga.

The Lion Foundation-sponsored event is organised by the New Zealand Women's Rugby League with support from the North Harbour Stadium, North Shore City Council, MaiFM and Suburban Newspapers.

Besides the official opening and powhiri, the other highlight of the tournament's first day will be the 3pm clash between the Kiwi Ferns and 2000 grand-finalist, Great Britain & Ireland.

Taking the field at North Harbour will be Laura Mariu, who has already represented New Zealand in softball and touch. Her selection for the Kiwi Ferns will make her a triple national representative at the age of 22.

North Shore City deputy mayor and North Harbour Stadium trustee, Dianne Hale, says it is great to base the tournament at Albany, venue of the centenary trans-Tasman test between the Kiwis and Kangaroos on October 18.

"We're proud to host the three-week comp and look forward to our Kiwi Ferns keeping this particular World Cup within our shores," says the league fan whose husband, Dennis, is a retired international referee.

"Besides the on-field action at Albany, most of the competitors will be staying here in North Shore City and training at council sportsfields and facilities including our Glenfield Leisure Centre," Councillor Hale says.

"This promises to be an action-packed tournament so we're encouraging people to come along to North Harbour and cheer on our wahine warriors," she says.

The nine teams will parade up Hurstmere Rd and into The Strand, Takapuna, on Saturday morning, September 27 where they will be honoured with an official reception in the civic forecourt outside North Shore City Council's head office.

It is hoped that New Zealand Rugby League patron and Prime Minister, Helen Clark, will attend the final on Sunday, October 12 and present the World Cup. A formal farewell dinner will be held at the stadium's ASB Bank Lounge that evening.

There are gates sales only for opening and closing days with ticket prices confirmed at $5 adults, $2 children and $12 family (two adults and four children).