March 12, 2019, 9:25 a.m.
Seventy Seven touch teams from around the country competed in the 2019 Bunnings New Zealand nationals held in Rotorua last weekend but it was the girls from the North who came away at the top taking out the under 21 women’s division for the second year running.
Team coach Joe Rau has been involved with the squad since returning from Australia in 2016 and after a career coaching males and mixed teams he took up the opportunity to coach females.
“One thing I noticed when I came back was a lot of potential, I saw a lot of athletes, speed and with that I got the opportunity to be involved in girls coaching, put a plan in place, a bit of structure and everything is coming to fruition now,” he said.
Rau said key areas for development over the last year were around education on the structural side of the game as well as building mental discipline.
“We’re pretty loose in our sporting up here. We try to rely on our talents but I believe (learning) all those attributes have helped us become the team we are.”
Representatives from six regions Whanganui, North Harbour, Counties Manukau, Waikato, Otago and Te Tai Tokerau played over the three-day tournament with counties Manukau and Tai Tokerau going to a drop off nail biter in the semi.
“Last year we had the element of surprise being the unknown, (this year) we went into it with people knowing we were the champions so people were prepared to not take us too easily,” Rau said.
Going through to the final, Tai Tokerau beat Otago in a one point lead, a repeat performance of their title win the previous year.
“We beat a team that was dominant, that never lost until the final and had beat us a couple of days before so we had to make a few changes and then let the girls talents do the rest.”
Team Captains Tara-Leigh Turner and Serai Murray-Wihongi said organising a team from Wellsford to Kerikeri to train twice a week was their biggest challenge.
“It takes a lot of commitment especially from the girls who live up North so it’s really important that the local girls make it to trainings. We didn’t really have full squad trainings until close to the end so that was hard.
“Otago beat us by one and so we knew it was possible to beat them but our semis vs harbour was really hard because they are a really hard team…….but after we won against them we had the boost that we could do it,” Murray- Wihongi said.
A number of the girls have also been selected to represent New Zealand in the under 16’s, 18’s and 21’s.