After five World Cups with New Zealand, Laura Mariu is loving life in Canada colours

The only woman to play in all six editions of the Rugby League World Cup is wearing Canadian colours these days.

After representing her native New Zealand at the last five World Cups, Laura Mariu is now playing for the country where her mother was born. Mariu and the Canada Ravens women face tournament host England on Saturday at DW Stadium in Wigan.

The 41-year-old is savouring her new lease on rugby league life with Canada, which is making just its second appearance at the tournament.

"I'm loving it," she said with enthusiasm. "I'm enjoying the new experience of playing with different people … Just loving that I get to represent my mum, who was born in Toronto. And they've welcomed me with open arms."

She is also impressed by her new teammates.

"They definitely have a physical presence on the field," she said.

"The girls are doing extremely well in terms of their lack of experience. But they're willing to learn, which is awesome," she added.

The former New Zealand captain is rooming with Canada skipper Gabby Hindley at the tournament.

Canada lost its opener 34-12 to Papua New Guinea on Tuesday in Leeds while England thumped tournament newcomer Brazil 72-4.

Amazingly, the PNG loss was only the third on Mariu's World Cup resume. Mariu and the Kiwi Ferns went 15-0-0 in winning the 2000, 2003 and 2008 tournaments.

New Zealand was 7-2 overall in the 2013 and '17 tournaments, with the only losses coming to Australia in the final.

In 2018, Mariu was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to rugby league.

She last played for New Zealand that year against Australia, suffering a shoulder injury in the process. After she dropped out of the Kiwi Ferns picture, she reached out to Canadian officials and told them she was interested in trying out.

"I'm truly grateful for this opportunity," she said.

As a Tier 2 rugby league nation, Canada is allowed to bring on board athletes with the necessary ties who have competed for other countries.

Because of COVID travel restrictions, Mariu was unable to get to Canada in advance of the tournament. She met up with the Ravens in England, making her debut for Canada in an 8-6 loss to Ireland in a warm-up game Oct. 25 in Wigan.

An all-round athlete, Mariu represented New Zealand in softball as a teenager. She has also represented New Zealand in tag football (think flag football).

In rugby league, she plays stand-off — quarterbacking the attack.

Rugby league has taken her toll on her body. By her count, she has had seven surgeries (three knee, two shoulder, wrist and elbow).

Mariu's English grandparents settled in Toronto, where her mother spent the first seven years of her life. The family then moved to New Zealand.

Mariu leads a busy life back home in Auckland.

The former police officer and her fiancee Harley have three boys, an eight-year-old and 13-year-old twins, and is currently taking her teaching degree at the University of Auckland.

"I really enjoyed working with young people. That's what made me decide to venture down another pathway," she explained.

Her sons are due to arrive in England on Saturday to see her in action.

Rejuvenated with the switch to Canada, Mariu says she may keep playing after the World Cup although coaching beckons in the future.

"I'm just taking it as it comes really," she said. "I was thinking heading into this I was going to retire at the end of it. But we will see. We will see what happens."

Wherever the future leads, she hopes to remain part of the Canada setup.

Mariu has yet to visit Canada but plans to remedy that soon now that travel is easier.

"I have a whole lot of houses that I can stay at," she said with a laugh. "Accommodations shouldn't be an issue.

England is ranked third in the world, behind New Zealand and No. 1 Australia. Canada is listed as No. 6 although the rankings mean little given Canada plays so rarely.

The World Cup marks the Ravens' first action since a tour of Serbia in 2019.

Rugby league is different than rugby union, the more popular form of the sport.

Rugby league, played primarily in Australia, New Zealand and England, features 13 players per side with teams in possession of the ball given six attempts to move up the field before turning it over.

A try in rugby league is worth four points compared to five points in rugby union.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2022.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press