Chiefs Manawa a success story but Super Rugby Aupiki needs to be longer

Georgia Daals of Waitomo Chiefs Manawa runs over to score a try during the Blues Women v Chiefs Manawa Sky Super Rugby Aupiki game at North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand on Saturday 4 March 2023. Mandatory credit: Lynne Cameron /

Georgia Daals of the Chiefs Manawa scores against the Blues Women. North Harbour Stadium, 2023.

Super Rugby Aupiki comes to a head this weekend after an extended yet still short season, with the Chiefs Manawa looking all but unstoppable in their quest to make it back-to-back titles.

The defending champions are red hot favourites to triumph over the South Island’s Matatū.

The Manawa hooker, Black Ferns World Cup winner Luka Connor, credits the team’s culture for their success so far.

“That is the drive behind our team.

“We have mothers who are able to bring in their babies. We have a babysitter. So, when we’re out on the field the mothers can focus on training and still have their young ones nearby. You don’t get that in many places. To know that this club is about supporting you as a person before a rugby player, is very special.”

Luka Connor of Waitomo Chiefs Manawa scores a try during the Blues Women v Chiefs Manawa Sky Super Rugby Aupiki game at North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand on Saturday 4 March 2023. Mandatory credit: Lynne Cameron /

Luka Connor of Chiefs Manawa dots down for a try.

Former Wellington player now commentator Alice Soper said the Chiefs have created an enviable environment in a short space of time.

“They are the benchmark in this game. The Manawa are a fantastic case study for other franchises to look at when it comes to just how well they have integrated into the male franchise.

“They have done a fantastic job of building a culture there and they just have the full package on the field. Absolute dominance up front and some really exciting touches in the backline too.”

Former Black Ferns halfback Kristina Sue, a 2017 World Cup winner, believes the Chiefs franchise has done a good job of promoting the Manawa.

Spark Sport commentators Sene Naoupu, Kristina Sue and Scotty Stevenson.
Canada v England, Women’s Rugby World Cup New Zealand 2021 (played in 2022) Semi Final match at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand on Saturday 5 November 2022. Mandatory credit: © Andrew Cornaga /

Kristina Sue (far right) commentating during the women’s Rugby World Cup.
Photo: Andrew Cornaga /

“You can see it from the social media posts that they put up. It’s quite equal in that sense that it will be about double headers and the Manawa get the same amount of publicity.

“You go along to a game and you’ll get given posters and you’ll see on one side it’s the Chiefs men and on the other side will be a player from the Chiefs Manawa.”

And while Soper and Sue have loved the quality of Super Rugby Aupiki, they feel it needs to be at least twice as long and Hurricanes Poua and Black Ferns prop Krystal Murray, agrees.

“Three games and semi-finals is not really a competition.

“It needs to be two rounds, that way the teams can play each other twice and really have the time they need to build a culture and cohesive squad. I feel the Hurricanes Poua results (they’ve won one of their four games ahead of Saturday’s third/fourth playoff against the Blues women) could have been quite different if we’d had more time together.”

Black Fern Krystal Murray.

Krystal Murray would like a longer Super Rugby Aupiki season.
Photo: Supplied / World Rugby

Several New Zealanders have decided to ply their trade in the Australia’s Super W and Soper thinks that should sound alarm bells for New Zealand Rugby.

“At least 10 New Zealand players have gone across to Australia to play in that competition. That’s a good number of Super Rugby Aupiki players. The players want a longer season and they’re making it happen. It’s a case of our union (NZR) catching up.”

Soper is adamant New Zealand Rugby needs to be doing more to help, with most Aupiki players having to maintain full time jobs.

Kristina Sue believes the current Aupiki model isn’t sustainable long term, with players working regular jobs from Monday through Wednesday before assembling with their Super Rugby teams from Thursday to Sunday.

She said if New Zealand Rugby want to keep the Black Ferns at the top of the pile, it must step up its investment in the women’s domestic game.

“You just need to compare it to the NPC men’s competition. That’s a 12 week competition and while the players are not necessarily full-time professionals for the entire year, there are certain months of the year that they are contracted and can take time off from their other jobs.

“If it can happen at that level, surely our top, elite women’s competition can have that sort of parity.”

And Soper concurs.

“Look at what they did in 1996 when they launched the men’s Super Rugby competition. The baseline wage was $65,000 a year for those blokes. I think it’s just under $9000 for the women this season. That’s ridiculous, this is 30 years later.”

Super Rugby Aupiki has provided entertaining and impressive rugby so far and tomorrow afternoon’s final should be no different.

The players just wish it wasn’t over quite so soon.

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