Coach Keith Hanley has urged the Maori All Stars women to develop their "own DNA as a group" believing they have the emerging young talent to offset the absence of New Zealand-based players for Saturday’s clash with their Indigenous rivals.
Injuries and border restrictions have robbed both teams of some of their best players and while there will be more than 20 new faces at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, the coaches and captains all agree the next generation of players getting an opportunity are capable of making an impact in their big-game debuts.
"I think any contest there is always some kind of pressure," Hanley said.
"We’ve talked about constructing our own DNA as a group and that is a little bit different without the input from the people back home [in New Zealand].
"I stress we do miss them and it has been a bit different than normal but we move forward and look to make an impression."
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New captain Corban McGregor, fullback Botille Vette-Welsh and hooker Nita Maynard have stepped up as leaders in the Maori camp but it has been 18-year-old rookie Mya Hill-Moana that has really caught the coach’s eye.
"[Hill-Moana] is only 18 and she has shown an incredible amount of leadership potential and it’s been beautiful for me to sit back and watch," Hanley said.
The Indigenous women prevailed in a low-scoring affair 10-4 last year and while rain is predicted in Townsville, their captain Tallisha Harden is confident both teams have the skill to put a few more points on the scoreboard.
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Harden believes it will come down to "desire, discipline and just a lot of grit" to get the win.
"The skill levels of both teams will be really high," Harden said.
"Fingers crossed, we can convert that to points. I think it will be really entertaining, really high energy and I’m sure everyone is going to enjoy it.
"We only have a week in camp together so it’s important to have that off-field connection but when you get on the field you just have to roll your sleeves up."
Harden, one of only six Indigenous players who played in the corresponding fixture last year, revealed the senior members of the team had come together in camp to develop their own unique "unity dance" that will be revealed for the first time prior to kick-off.
Developed with the help of local artist Patrick Thaiday, the traditional dance will incorporate elements of previous teams' performances but Harden said the leaders and team management all wanted this year’s unity dance to remain a tradition for years to come.
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The women were so committed to perfecting the performance they travelled out to the Cowboys' old 1300Smiles Stadium 20 minutes out of town on Friday for a two-hour rehearsal.
"We’re trying to create something we can keep passing on to the next generation of girls so we’re not always chopping and changing the dance," Harden told NRL.com.
"It’s important we pay homage to our past and make sure we include parts in the next one. Hopefully we do it justice and it looks really good because the girls have put a lot of effort into it.
"We’re really keen, none of us are professional dancers so for us it’s just about taking it all in, learning a bit about our culture while we do it but the big thing is to put our heart and soul into it and make sure we’re putting our a product we can be really proud of and hopefully the community can be really proud of."