Rikki Swannell

Rikki Swannell has been a sports broadcaster for 15 years, including six years as Sports Editor for Radio Sport/Newstalk ZB, covering various World Cups, Olympics and Commonwealth Games. Now a freelance commentator and reporter, she can be heard on rugby, netball, tennis, cricket and hockey for Sky Sport and on the Women's World Sevens Series.

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FPC is the shop window for mind blowing talent and a thrilling brand of rugby – Rikki Swannell

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Rikki Swannell     28 Aug 2019     Getty Images

I cautioned then that the FPC remained an amateur competition despite the injection of cash, and that still rings true as we begin the 2019 season.

That we have another union joining the competition this year reflects the growth and investment in women’s rugby. It’s hugely exciting to have Northland involved and a massive achievement for a smaller union to make such a big statement of commitment. A fourth new team in the space of three seasons is something very few sports leagues globally could lay claim to, but it’s also a reminder of the start-up nature of the FPC.

But while the element of care and caution remains, the new season should also come with higher expectations of a step up in quality, skill level and competitiveness.

In the past two seasons, 19 players have made their debuts for the Black Ferns, touring to France, the United States and Australia. That is a huge amount of experience, information and good practice to take back to the unions and means players in their early 20s add to the layer of leadership within each team. The value in having vastly experienced players like Linda Itunu, Kristina Sue, Steph Te Ohaere Fox and Emma Jensen still turning out for their provinces can’t be understated. 
We’ve also seen a bit more player movement this year, with the call of home and the promise of building something new luring Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate and Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali from Counties to Northland, new Black Fern Karli Faneva shifting to Bay of Plenty, Forne Burkin returning home to Hawke’s Bay and World Cup winner Sosoli Talawadua heading from Waikato to Manawatu, among the moves. The fact that players can now shift to just about any part of the country for personal, work or study reasons and still continue or enhance their rugby careers is another pointer towards the accelerated growth of the FPC.

All of these factors mean the top tier Premiership shapes as perhaps the most competitive ever. Every one of the seven teams has a story line to follow, a thread underlying their campaigns, and makes picking the semi-finalists incredibly difficult… I’m going with Canterbury, Auckland, Wellington and, putting my neck on the line for Bay of Plenty, but really any of the seven could make the top four (there’s my insurance policy!) 

In the Championship the expectation is continued improvement, for a truly competitive division and the hope that these six teams will continue to close the gap to the top tier. I’m predicting big things for Hawke’s Bay this year after the big step they took last season. 

It’s a hugely exciting time to be involved in the women’s game. For the next nine weeks the Farah Palmer Cup is the shop window for mind blowing talent, inspirational levels of commitment and a thrilling brand of rugby.