Proud to lead the Pride

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Campbell Burnes     03 Sep 2019     Getty Images

Auckland was the seven-time defending champion but was missing most of its Black Ferns World Cup stars. That did not ease the tension for the rookie out of the Petone club.

“That was a tight game. I was pretty fresh. That was my first year playing NPC, but I was glad I didn’t get chucked on because it was pretty tense and it was quite scary,” says Patea-Fereti, who was Jackie Patea back then.

Since that rookie season, she has racked up 56 games for the Pride, not to mention 18 for the Black Ferns, and led the Pride to the Championship title in last year’s Farah Palmer Cup.

In the last campaign, she made five appearances at No 8 and two at lock but may have a more roving commission in the 2019 loose forwards under coaches Ross Bond and Brendan Reidy as young Black Ferns flanker Marcelle Parkes, who turned out on the wing for the Pride in 2018, has undergone shoulder surgery.

The gap between the two divisions is not that pronounced in the Mitre 10 Cup but Patea-Fereti says it is considerable from the Championship up to the Premiership in the Farah Palmer Cup.

“It’ll be harder in the Premiership as there will be bigger girls, more skilled, who understand the game now, so we might expect more injuries,” she says.

The Pride cut a swathe through their 2018 opponents, dropping just their opener away to the Hawke’s Bay Tui, then bouncing back to topple Premiership champs Canterbury in a crossover clash which might have ranked as the upset of the season. Thereafter it was a procession of high scoring affairs, culminating in the 57-5 hiding of the Otago Spirit in the final.

Will the Pride’s game plan be as simple as getting the ball swiftly out to the dangerous left wing and Black Fern Ayesha Leti-I’iga?

“Ayesha’s a big threat in the FPC, so we’ll try to get her as much ball as possible because she is one to break the line,” says Patea-Fereti.

Leti-I’iga scored no less than 11 tries, the competition-high, but Patea-Fereti was not far behind with eight.

“That’s only because I had girls putting me into gaps!” she quips.

So how will the Pride fare in the 2019 Premiership, given they have a squad that can reach the semifinals?

“I’d say we will take it one game at a time. Looking at all the teams, Waikato, for example, has got a lot of girls coming back who have been missing from the game. They look strong, Bay of Plenty, too.”

Not to mention the usual suspects Canterbury, Manawatu, Counties Manukau and a hurting Auckland.
Patea-Fereti is champing at the bit for more footy. Shoulder surgery had ruled her out until late in the club season, scratching her from the Super Series in San Diego, but she returned last month as a replacement for the Black Ferns at Eden Park against the Wallaroos.

Her international experience, as one of the contracted players, and that of the other Black Ferns, should see a lift in Farah Palmer Cup standards.

“It’s going to be much harder. There will be way more top level skills and, not only that, the Black Ferns girls got the message from the coaches that we need to be leading the way in the FPC for the girls coming through.”

The Pride host the Bay of Plenty Volcanix this Saturday at Porirua’s Jerry Collins Stadium. Kickoff is at 1pm.