Super Rugby Aupiki: Players renew call for expanded professional competition on eve of season kickoff

Even as they prepare for an expanded 2024 format, Super Rugby Aupiki players have renewed their call for increased professional opportunities.

The women's competition has grown exponentially in recent years, from a single exhibition game between Chiefs and Blues in 2021 to a round-robin format the following year, and round-robin plus semis and final last season.

In 2024, the four teams will get home-and-away games against each other before the semis, with a longer lead-in time.

Matatū celebrate their 2023 Aupiki victory.
Matatū celebrate their 2023 Aupiki victory. Photo credit: Getty Images

"I think it's really cool that we've had a longer pre-season," Chiefs and Black Ferns captain Kennedy Simon told AM. "We've had a couple of camps together and I'm just excited to see the flow.

"Last year, we were just plummeted into it and towards the end of the season, we started to get a bit of flow."

The competition still feels a little undercooked, as a steppingstone towards the international stage. While the NZ women reign as world champions, they were comprehensively outplayed by both England and France during the inaugural WXV 1 last year - a warning that the domestic game still isn't up to scratch.

"I think all of us would like to see a longer competition with more games," said Blues captain Ruahei Demant. "The competition last season was a real short sprint and it wasn't until the end that teams started gelling.

"We want more of an opportunity to perfect that in pre-season, so that come competition time, it can be longer, there can be more quality rugby and you're actually developing a wider base of players, so the competition domestically is really hard and you can go to the next level."

One obvious improvement would be a trans-Tasman exchange with the Australian state teams. Both national unions have endorsed this idea, but nothing concrete has emerged from those assurances.

Super Rugby Aupiki begins this weekend, with Chiefs Manawa facing Hurricanes Poua and champions Matatū facing the Blues.