Source: NZ Rugby, Rachael Whareaitu

Talent aplenty in 2024 contracted Black Ferns group

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  • Five players receive first-time contracts
  • Aldora Itunu returns to Black Ferns after birth of first child

Talent continues to flourish within the Black Ferns programme as the squad continues to build toward Rugby World Cup 2025.

This year’s contracted group features five exciting new players following standout performances across Sky Super Rugby Aupiki. Atlanta Lolohea (Matatū), Hannah King (Hurricanes Poua) Kahlia Awa (Blues), Maama Vaipulu (Blues) and Maia Joseph (Matatū) have secured their first full-time Black Ferns contracts.

Blues lock Vaipulu was immense for the Blues during their charge to the Sky Super Rugby Aupiki title. A consistent performer, with a great skill set made a strong impression on Black Ferns selectors.

Shifting north to Wellington to pursue Super Rugby for the season, paid dividends for Hurricanes Poua first five-eighth Hannah King. The 20-year-old thrived in the Hurricanes Poua environment and became a notable standout for the side.

With a dominant performance in the Sky Super Rugby Aupiki final, Blues halfback Awa has made every post a winner in the past 12 months and will be hoping to add to her highlights reel in a black jersey. Alongside Awa, diligent halfback and first five-eighth Joseph, also secures her first contract having been on the radar of Black Ferns selectors for some time. Joseph’s Matatū teammate, hooker Lolohea, is also set to make the step-up.

Black Ferns Director of Rugby Allan Bunting was impressed with the competitiveness and potential of the five newly contracted players.

“It is exciting to be able to see the growth we have building in our game at the moment. While it makes for a tough selection, it gives us an opportunity to expose more talent to the international stage in specific areas we are looking at moving into the future and towards Rugby World Cup 2025. These new players have really stood out consistently in their own way across Sky Super Rugby Aupiki that has been apparent in the way they hold themselves on and off the field.

“It is an exciting opportunity for them to come on this journey and look to continue their growth both on and off the field. The future of our internal competition is exciting to see.”

While there is a youthful look to the 2024 contracted group, a talented group of experienced players who have already had the privilege of wearing the black jersey also return to the contracted group. Prominent Blues prop Aldora Itunu, newly converted prop Marcelle Parkes (Matatū), illusive loose forward Kaipo Olsen-Baker (Matatū) and powerful midfielder Monica Tagoai (Hurricanes Poua) all return to the Black Ferns environment.

“We are pleased to be able to welcome back these experienced players into our environment. Their perseverance, physical presence and ability to impact games has been evident. They have been standouts for their respective teams during Sky Super Rugby Aupiki and we are excited to see what they bring to environment,” said Bunting.

Phillipa Love, Liv McGoverne and Mia Anderson will join the Black Ferns squad on interim contracts as injury cover. One additional full-time contract is still be confirmed.

Black Ferns 2024 Contracted Group: Alana Bremner (Matatū, Canterbury), Aldora Itunu (Blues, Auckland), Amy du Plessis (Matatū, Canterbury), Amy Rule (Matatū, Canterbury), Ariana Bayler (Chiefs Manawa, Waikato), Atlanta Lolohea (Matatū, Canterbury), Ayesha Leti-I’iga (Hurricanes Poua, Wellington), Awhi Tangen-Wainohu (Chiefs Manawa, Waikato), Charmaine Smith (Chiefs Manawa, Northland), Chelsea Bremner (Chiefs Manawa, Canterbury), Chryss Viliko (Blues, Auckland), Georgia Ponsonby (Matatū, Canterbury), Grace Steinmetz (Chiefs Manawa, Canterbury), Hannah King (Hurricanes Poua, Canterbury), Iritana Hohaia (Hurricanes Poua, Taranaki), Joanah Ngan Woo (Hurricanes Poua, Wellington), Kahlia Awa (Blues, Hawke’s Bay), Kaipo Olsen-Baker (Matatū, Manawatū), Kate Henwood (Chiefs Manawa, Bay of Plenty), Katelyn Vahaakolo (Blues, Auckland), Kennedy Simon (Chiefs Manawa, Waikato), Liana Mikaele-Tu’u (Blues, Auckland), Layla Sae (Hurricanes Poua, Manawatū), Logo-I-Pulotu Lemapu Atai’i (Sylvia) Brunt (Blues, Auckland), Lucy Jenkins (Matatū, Canterbury), Luka Connor (Chiefs Manawa, Bay of Plenty), Leaso Grace Gago Tiatia (Blues, Counties Manukau), Maama Vaipulu (Blues, Auckland), Maia Joseph (Matatū, Otago), Maiakawanakaulani Roos (Blues, Auckland), Marcelle Parkes (Matatū, Canterbury), Mererangi Paul (Chiefs Manawa, Counties Manukau), Monica Tagoai (Hurricanes Poua, Wellington), Patricia Maliepo (Blues, Auckland), Renee Holmes (Chiefs Manawa, Waikato), Ruahei Demant (Blues, Auckland), Ruby Tui (Chiefs Manawa, Counties Manukau), Santo Taumata (Chiefs Manawa, Bay of Plenty), Sophie Fisher (Blues, Auckland), Tanya Kalounivale (Chiefs Manawa, Waikato).

Black Ferns 2024 new contracts:

Atlanta Lolohea
Despite Atlanta Lolohea still only being in her early twenties, she has been around the professional scene from a young age. Following a standout schoolgirl career, Lolohea was just 17 years old when she was part of Canterbury’s Farah Palmer Cup, presented by Bunnings Warehouse (FPC) team for 2020. However, it wasn’t until 2022 where she made her debut against Wellington and had a standout season to be awarded most promising FPC player of the year alongside Hannah King. Lolohea is the younger sister of Matatū and Black Ferns winger Martha Mataele (née Lolohea). The two were both part of Matatū’s championship winning Sky Super Rugby Aupiki side of 2023, with Martha debuting for the Black Ferns later that year. In 2023 Atlanta was called into the Black Ferns as injury cover during the final week of WXV1. Impressing selectors at the time with her professionalism and hard work, it is It is no surprise that this promising hooker has secured her first Black Ferns contract in 2024.

Kahlia Awa
Kahlia Awa is a promising halfback who hails from the Hawke’s Bay and was a standout performer for the Hawkes Bay Tui in their 2023 Farah Palmer Cup, presented by Bunnings Warehouse (FPC) campaign – culminating in their first semi-final appearance. Awa has been recognised as a player with huge potential and was selected in the inaugural Black Ferns XV team in 2023. Following a prominent season for her Hawke’s Bay Tui, Awa was named in the Blues Sky Super Rugby Aupiki squad for 2024. It wasn’t long before the hardworking halfback debuted for the Blues, against Chiefs Manawa. Awa has a snappy, precise pass and an incisive running game and took the step-up to Super Rugby in her stride and as a result was named in the Black Ferns squad for 2024. Awa is one to watch for the future. Before the lure of rugby, from former Black Ferns Emma Jensen, Awa was a talented netballer, who represented New Zealand Secondary Schools. She is also the daughter of former New Zealand age group basketballer Shontelle Wainohu and Duane Awa.

Hannah King
Hannah King caught the eyes of Black Ferns selectors during this year’s Sky Super Rugby Aupiki competition. Having made the shift from Canterbury to Wellington to pursue Super Rugby, the confident young first five-eighth directed her Hurricanes Poua team around the field with ease. King made the shift north, after two consecutive Farah Palmer Cup, presented by Bunnings Warehouse (FPC) seasons with Canterbury. In her debut season, she was a standout and was awarded most promising FPC player of the year alongside Atalana Lolohea.

Maama Vaipulu
Maama Vaipulu, a star volleyball player, was a late arrival to the rugby scene. But this player has ‘hops’ making her an exciting young lock to keep an eye on. It was a breakthrough season in 2022 for Vaipulu who started most games at lock for the Auckland Storm. She got her first taste of Super Rugby for the Blues in 2023 and was a dominant force in their lineout and was a member of the Farah Palmer Cup, presented by Bunnings Warehouse (FPC), winning Auckland Storm later that same year. It is of no surprise this youthful lock caught the eyes of selectors after an exceptional Sky Super Rugby Aupiki in 2024, earning her first Black Ferns contract.

Maia Joseph
Maia Joseph hails from Wellington but shifted at a young age to Dunedin, which she fondly calls home. The diligent halfback debuted for Otago in 2020, following two prominent season the versatile halfback/first five-eighth was awarded the Fiao’o Fa’amausil’i Medal in 2022. In 2022, Joseph made her Super Rugby debut for Chiefs Manawa, she missed the following season with a knee injury. Joseph recovered in time for Otago’s 2023 Farah Palmer Cup, presented by Bunnings Warehouse (FPC) campaign. Following a successful return Joseph was selected for the Black Ferns XV and later joined the Black Ferns environment ahead of the inaugural WXV tournament. Joseph debuted for Matatū earlier this year. Having been on the radar of Black Ferns selectors for a number of years, it is no surprise the talented individual was a consistent performer across Matatū’s season, earning herself her first Black Ferns contract. Joseph has also represented New Zealand in touch rugby and is studying a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery from the University of Otago but has currently put her studies on hold.

Black Ferns re-contracted in 2024:

Aldora Itunu
Prop Aldora Itunu returns to the Black Ferns following an impressive 2024 Sky Super Rugby Aupiki season with the Blues after missing the 2023 season after the birth of her first child. Sister of Blues Assistant Coach Linda Itunu, there is no shortage of experience for this powerful prop. Aldora has notched up 50 caps for the Auckland Storm as well as 24 Tests for the Black Ferns, including a Women’s Rugby World Cup victory in 2017. She is a specialist in the dark arts of scrummaging and much like her sister is one of the hardest hitters in the women’s game.

Kaipo Olsen-Baker
Originally hailing from Gisborne, Kaipo Olsen-Baker has been touted for high honours for some time. A school-girl star in both sevens and XVs for Manukura School, Olsen-Baker is explosive, strong over the ball and has great footwork. Returning from injury, she was a stand-out performer in Sky Super Rugby Aupiki for Hurricanes Poua in 2022. Olsen-Baker debuted for the Black Ferns later that year against Australia in the Pacific Four Series in Tauranga. Having missed the Rugby World Cup through injury, Olsen-Baker returned with a strong Farah Palmer Cup, presented by Bunnings Warehouse (FPC), campaign for Manawatū in 2023 and shifted south to Christchurch to kick-off her 2024 Sky Super Rugby Aupiki season with Matatū. The loose forward was awarded Matatū Player of the Year. The move paid dividends and earnt her selection in the Black Ferns once again.

Marcelle Parkes
An accomplished softballer, who was a part of the Junior White Sox, and talented netballer, named in the New Zealand Secondary Schools team in 2015, Marcelle Parkes took up the opportunity to play sevens for the Marist St Pat’s club to keep fit in the netball off-season. By 2018 she was in the Wellington Sevens team to play at the national tournament, where she caught the eyes of selectors and was named in the Black Ferns Development Sevens team to play in Japan. Her versatility saw her selected in the Black Ferns in 2018. She made her Test debut against France on the Northern Tour in 2018. Since her Black Ferns debut, the powerhouse number eight has been a mainstay of the Canterbury and Matatū forward packs. Under the tutelage of Whitney Hansen, Parkes made the shift to the front row in 2022 and has quickly adapted to the new role. Impressing for Canterbury during their Farah Palmer Cup, presented by Bunnings Warehouse (FPC) campaign, Parkes earnt selection in the Black Ferns XV and following a competitive Super Rugby in the front row, Parkes will now be hoping to make her return to the Black Ferns in the new role.

Monica Tagoai
Monica Tagoai is a damaging centre and wing who, debuted off the bench for the Black Ferns against the USA in the historic Soldier Field test in Chicago. A member of the Marist St Pats (MSP) club she made her Wellington Pride debut while still at school. The 2018 season was Tagoai’s ground-breaking year for Wellington but unfortunately, her freight train-like momentum was halted the following year when she fractured her tibia and fibula in a pre-season club game. She has bounced back strongly and has since been a stand-out performer for the Hurricanes Poua and Wellington Pride. Determined to return to the Black Ferns she continued to build on the momentum she had in 2023.

All Black Ferns Tests will be broadcasted live on Sky Sport.

Pacific Four Series Schedule (New Zealand times and dates listed)
Black Ferns v USA, Saturday 11 May, 2.05pm, HAMILTON
Black Ferns v Canada, Sunday 19 May, 4.35pm, Apollo Projects Stadium, CHRISTCHURCH
Black Ferns v Australia, Saturday 25 May, 2.05pm, North Harbour Stadium, AUCKLAND (O’Reilly Cup, presented by Ryman Healthcare).

Ticketing for Pacific Four Series: click here.

Lead Photo: Black Ferns contracted group. Back row: Marcelle Parkes, Liv McGoverne (interim contract), Kaipo Olsen-Baker, Hannah King, Maia Joseph, Mia Anderson (interim contract). Front row: Monica Tagoai, Kahlia Awa, Maama Vaipulu, Atlana Lolohea. Not photographed: Aldora Itunu.

With thanks to New Zealand Rugby

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