THIS YEAR’S McDonald’s Joeys Mini World Cup can say it is truly international and has a women’s team from New Zealand to thank for it.
The side from the Claudelands Rovers club in Hamilton is the first team to come from overseas to play at the tournament in Inverell, but probably won’t be the last.
They are competing in the open women’s competition this week and cemented their favourite’s tag on the very first day on Saturday with two massive wins over local sides.
The bulk of the team are only youngsters but there are a couple of more experienced players in the squad, like former New Zealand international Helen Collins.
“A lot of them play in the Waikato A division,” Collins said.
“Then we have a team in the Northern League, which is the top competition in New Zealand.
“That’s the team that I play for and a couple of these girls have been in and out of that side.”
The younger players are all vying for places in that national league side so the standard in the club is very high.
Most of the girls on tour play for two local schools in Waikato who have a great rivalry but come together at club level and have tasted success in their local competition.
“In Waikato they play at the pinnacle,” Collins said.
“So that brings a lot of players to the club.
“They won their league and they won their knockout cup this year.”
Collins has played in the women’s World Cup for New Zealand so she knows what elite football is about.
“I played in 2006 in Russia,” she said.
“It was a cultural experience.”
Like in Australia, women’s football in New Zealand is growing.
Collins said the national team was “getting better” but the standard across the world was also improving all the time.
Naturally the Rovers are playing as New Zealand in Inverell this week.
On Saturday they started with a 10-nil win over East Armidale/Tamworth (USA) and a 10-nil win over Joeys FC (Brazil) with Collins scoring plenty of goals, along with Georgia Green and Bee Witt.
They were almost unstoppable in front of goal.
Another one of the stars of the side is captain Laura Phillips and she is also the reason the Rovers came to the Mini World Cup, because she toured Germany with Joeys FC when living in northern NSW.
“One of our girls was from here but moved to New Zealand for school,” Collins said.
“She organised for us to come back.
“I think the chance to go to Germany was also attractive for the girls.
“We’re here till Friday so we get a couple of days off after the tournament.”
The Rovers are sure to be in the final tomorrow, after which scholarships will be handed out to the best player and goalkeeper to be part of the Germany and England trips.
Organisers expect the New Zealanders to be back next year and may even bring a second team.
There has also been interest from other countries and the international profile of the Mini World Cup is likely to rise in the future.