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'Jacko' back at helm of Kiwi Ferns

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Incumbent Alan Jackson has been retained as NZ Kiwi Ferns head coach for 2016 and now has a chance to select his first squad from this weekend’s NZRL National Women’s Tournament in Rotorua.

Jackson guided the Ferns to a 22-14 loss against the Australian Jillaroos in the Anzac Test curtain-raiser at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium in May, but did so with an inherited roster.

With new assistant coach Grant Pocklington, he will cast his eye over the talent available at Puketawhero Park over the next three days, as preparations begin for next year’s trans-Tasman fixture.

Last year, Jackson guided Central Vipers to surprise runner-up finish at the tournament, eventually falling to Counties Manukau Stingrays in the final.

Looking back, how do you summarise your first experience in charge off the Kiwi Ferns?

Jackson: "Well, we lost, but apart from that, it was a great experience to play at Suncorp in front of all those people.

"I thought we performed quite well, even though we didn’t get the win. Australia have really started to put some more energy and resources into their women’s game and are starting to set the bar quite high.

"That’s a challenge for us going forward."

What are the strengths of the Kiwi Ferns programme?

Jackson: "I think, with the NRL Nines and the Anzac Test on TV, there’s a lot more interest and respect for how women play the game.

"We see that, this weekend, with Wai-Coa-Bay fielding a team for the first time.

"Our women have great skill and passion for the game, and the level they showed, especially at the nines, was higher than some people give them credit for."

OK, so what are the work-ons? What do we need to improve the match the Australians?

Jackson: "For the Anzac Test, our season had only just started, so we were short of match fitness and probably general fitness right across the board.

"The Aussies put us under pressure and some of our players hadn’t been put under the pump before, so they need to learn how to handle stuff like that."

Specifically, what will you be looking for this weekend at the national tournament?

Jackson: "I’d just like to see some people put their hands up to play for the Kiwi Ferns and I’m sure I will.

"I’m going into the tournament with an open mind, so I’ll be looking for whoever wants to play for the team. Whoever puts their hand up will get an opportunity."

What are the big differences between coaching men and women?

Jackson: "I find the women really receptive to new ideas and their skill level is better than a lot of men I’ve coached.

"They’re very good footballers."

We’ve seen several women use the Kiwi Ferns as a stepping stone towards international rugby union careers. Is that a positive or negative for league?

"That’s just something we have to live with - that cross-code swapping happens in the men’s game, as well as the women’s game.

"There are obviously quite a high number of women who play both, but hopefully, with the 2017 Women’s World Cup being played in New Zealand and Australia, we can swing that movement the other way."

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