It’s been a watershed week for women’s rugby league in New Zealand with the announcement of the Warriors’ squad for the inaugural NRL Women’s Premiership.
And Masuisuimatamaalii ‘Sui’ Tauasa-Pauaraisa has carved out her own historic niche by becoming the first Canterbury player to feature in the competition, earning a contract in the 22-strong squad.
But amidst the hype and interest around the Warriors team and the NRL Women’s Premiership, Sui Pauaraisa is keeping her feet firmly planted on the ground.
“It is exciting and I can’t wait, but I’ve still got to do the job though,” Pauaraisa said.
“My Facebook, Snaps and everything are blasting up with all the messages, they’re all pretty happy now that (the team’s) finally out.”
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) August 1, 2018
The Linwood Keas back-rower – also a Canterbury rugby union rep in 2016-17 – is only in her third season of rugby league, but she has been included in the Kiwi Ferns wider squad in 2017-18 after standout campaigns for Canterbury for the past two seasons at the NZRL National Women’s Tournament.
She has been training with the Warriors for several weeks – flying up on Tuesday, going to training, then flying back Wednesday and heading straight to work as a clinical administrator with CDHB.
“Training up there is really cool, I’ve learned so much,” the 30-year-old enthused.
“Because I’m in the wider squad for the Kiwi Ferns as well, I know most of the girls.
“It’s a dream come true especially for the girls that have been playing for a long time. This is only my third year of league, but it’s a really good pathway.
“Especially the little ones – my little girl plays for Linwood Keas as well – (to see that) pathway, and it’s really good for all the women playing league at the moment.”
Pauaraisa could so easily have been part of a three-pronged Canterbury contingent in the team – Charntay Poko and 2017 Kiwi Ferns rep Corrina Whiley were on the cusp of Warriors contracts but were forced out of contention by injuries.
But despite the disappointment of her provincial teammates’ misfortune, she is stoked to be flying the flag for southern rugby league ladies.
“It’s pretty cool – ‘Canterbury hard’ at heart! It’s pretty special being the only one from the South Island.”
Being based in Christchurch, Pauaraisa has the most demanding travel schedule of any Warriors player. When the competition begins (September 7-9), she will be based in Auckland until the side’s last game – potentially on NRL grand final day (September 30).
But extended periods away from home for sport is nothing new for the 2016-18 Samoa Rugby Sevens rep – and family support on the home front takes care of the rest. It’s hard, but worth it.
“My husband (Mia) looks after my girls (Pine and Paia), he’s a massive support and I’m lucky to have him,” she said.
“It is a challenge, but I’m used to it. I’ve been travelling for the Rugby Sevens and I’ve been away for six weeks for a tour in Europe before.
“I always miss my girls and my family, but it’s an opportunity that only comes once so I’ve got to make the most of it.”
Typical of Pauaraisa’s competitive nature, she still hopes to play in the CRL women’s premiership grand final on August 26 if the Keas make it – despite being required for the Warriors’ warm-up game against an Auckland Invitational side the previous day.
“I’m trying to come back on Saturday to be here for the game on Sunday, but we’ll see what (coach) Luisa (Avaiki) says.”
Kiwi Ferns legend and Warriors women’s coach Luisa Avaiki revealed Sui Pauaraisa has been a permanent fixture on the club’s radar.
Pauaraisa’s commitment and professionalism in the face of the obstacle of living an hour-and-a-half flight away convinced Avaiki that she had what it took to play a key role in the Warriors’ maiden campaign.
“Sui was identified from nationals and made the wider Kiwi Ferns squad, which gave her an advantage,” Avaiki said.
“She was also identified last year and was in the Ferns’ wider squad so we knew a bit about her before (this year’s) tournament.
“She had been able to maintain consistency in her game-play, in her conditioning and the way she kept herself fit.
“The elements she brings into a game for her team – being fit, being strong, quick and she’s got a really good work ethic.
“She’s been consistent, she’s really self-motivated. It’s harder for her because she’s not in Auckland, so she has to do a lot of that (training and fitness) herself.”
— NRL (@NRL) March 28, 2018
Avaiki also praised Pauaraisa’s support network in assisting her to keep up the required standards.
“We’re trusting that she’s doing what she needs to do, and she’s also got a program that she’s been given by the head trainer of the Kiwi Ferns. But she’s got really good people in her club that support her at that level, her club coach and people around the club.
“She’s not entirely left alone down there, she’s got a lot of support which is great, it’s been really helpful for us as well to help keep Sui accountable. But she’s one of those players that is really driven in terms of making sure she is at the level she needs to be to really compete.
“She totally earned her spot, from the inclusion into the training squad. She’s been really hard-working, turned up to training with a really great attitude, willing to work, do what it takes to be there.
“Sui fits into our team in terms of what she offers as a strong-running forward. Very mobile, an ability to carry the ball strongly but also her work ethic on defence.”
— Stuff (@NZStuff) June 5, 2018
Avaiki lamented the unavailability of Poko and Whiley, but said the door was still ajar for the injured duo.
If any of the contracted 22 players are ruled out before or during the competition, the Papanui Tigers duo will come into the frame – provided they have recovered sufficiently themselves.
“Charntay and Corrina have been added to our wider list as development players, so there is an opportunity for them later on.
“It depends on how well their injuries heal. We’ve got another six weeks until the competition. They were serious contenders for those contracts.”
Avaiki believes the fact three Canterbury players could potentially have claimed spots in the Warriors’ squad is a fantastic sign for women’s rugby league in the region.
Few are as qualified to comment as the 1995 Kiwi Ferns original and three-time World Cup-winning captain.
“Canterbury traditionally in the past has produced some really strong rugby league players,” she said.
“We’ve had many Kiwi Ferns players to come out of Canterbury and it’s always going to be an area we have to consider and look into. We know the talent is there, but possibly not the opportunity for those girls to get a lot of experience at the level needed to be competitive.
“But there’s definitely the potential and the talent pool there (of players) that are good enough to compete.”
Photo Credit: Warriors Media