Rawinia Everitt has been a Black Fern. She was a member of the squad from 2011 to 2017 and that included two World Cup wins before an injury put her out of action just before a World Cup final in Ireland. After a year coaching women’s rugby in Hong Kong, she returned home to Kaitaia in the middle of last year. She had four weeks off and during that time she started thinking about how players that are contracted to play for New Zealand have to travel to Auckland twice a week and how difficult that is for many, especially young people, who hope to play for the national team. Already she had inspired the young women in her whānau – her nieces and young cousins – who all wanted to follow her footsteps. Why not, she thought, stay in Kaitaia, and coach women’s rugby at home. Then someone sent her an advertisement for an ACE job at the Far North REAP. Of course they employed her. So now she coaches and mentors women playing rugby – which is just one part of her job in the ACE team.

The first thing she did was to reinvigorate the game in the Far North, where it had been in the doldrums for a few years. So she worked with others to set up clubs. The result – in just over a year there are now forty women on a pathway that is helping them become not only successful athletes but skilled, motivated and successful people. And in the wings are increasing numbers of under 18 and under 15 young women developing their own goals.

“We now have a Northland Women’s Farah Palmer Cup Rugby team and they have just completed a national competition so they are in line for selection to the Black Ferns.

“I am using rugby as a platform, I suppose, a way to bring in all these women and set up a programme mentoring them so they can be better players and better people. And now some of the women that I have been mentoring are coaching and helping the younger ones coming through. Women’s rugby is run by volunteers so I teach them that it is their responsibility to give back to the community. Eight of the best women are now coaching in schools. What’s happening is that families and kids can see the pathway to get to the top of rugby – to get to the top as a career. Māori are naturally gifted at sport – they just need a push, a couple of growlings and a lot of support.

“During the mentoring sessions we talk about what it looks like to be an elite athlete. We break it down and they set their goals. A lot of it is about personal development, how to behave, how to present yourself and the skills that you need. For example they need to learn how to write letters for sponsorship, to fund-raise and manage their own campaigns. They learn time management, work ethic. We have weekend wānanga on a marae. We’ve had three this year – we keep the numbers to about 25 each time. They learn all about marae protocol and where they come from. They learn mihi, waiata, haka, how to make Māori medicine and massage balms. We do a lot of team building activities and games. They also learn how to cook a meal on a budget. They are given $20 dollars and a time frame to shop and cook for the whole group and learn about financial management. That’s a good skill for them, as many are having to feed big families at home.

“I ask them, if you had thousands of dollars to invest in a rugby team, what would you like that team to look like? They talk about things like wearing the uniform correctly and behaving respectfully. I don’t tell them, I get them to think about it for themselves.

“They also understand that they need to pass what they are learning on to others, then with their mentoring they will become leaders in their own right. I have high standards and I tell them that I expect them to act like New Zealand athletes – so when you get the call up one day you don’t get a complete shock.

“Their families are part of it too. It’s all about a balanced life, so they learn the importance of whānau time. We want them to be role models for their kids. You can see that their relationships are growing massively. We are starting to see some beautiful results.

“We celebrate all successes. We have had a lot of girls who have not had jobs and now they have got into work. They are more confident. You can feel it in their goal setting, their goals are getting bigger than when they first started. They may have begun with just two training sessions a week and now they are all signed up to the local gym and attending regular classes.

“Quite a few of the girls have gone into further education or training, including some who have gone onto programmes at REAP to learn things like computer skills so that they can write their sponsorship proposals. They see how upskilling is important. We have one who is doing a teaching degree, another has joined the police, and another is doing her referee certificate. I have been able to send two of our girls to play rugby overseas – one in Canada and another in Portugal – so they can already see there are opportunities out there. I encourage them to dream big and know – you can get there from Kaitaia! It is about building great people so that they can be top-of the class athletes.”

Aroha Savage
I started playing rugby in high school and I’ve been involved ever since – playing and coaching. But Rawinia – well she has a passion for the game and a passion to make people better. When I first met her in 2015 I was a postie and she pushed me and gave me the confidence to apply for a building apprenticeship. I would have never had the confidence to put myself up there, especially in a man’s world. I am now nearly qualified.

She has helped me become a better athlete and a better person – being a true honest person first, before being a rugby player. I have a lot of younger siblings who look up to me so what I am doing has been good for them too. I am showing them that there are pathways through women’s rugby.

Because I am 30 and nearly at the end of playing rugby, I am now doing more coaching and mentoring and helping Rawinia run the academy which we set up this year. We are also running a DIY for ladies in Kaitaia. We have about 12- 20 come along each week. The oldest lady is about 80! We are making lots of things out of pallet wood, like outdoor furniture, puzzles, fish filleting tables, serving platters and they are currently making pallet headboards. We also did a collaboration with a local kindergarten where the ladies made an outdoor kitchen for the kids which was awesome for the community. So because of Rawinia I am tutoring and loving it. These classes will continue next year as the feedback we get is they want more.

Poto Murray
I first found out about it as I was scrolling through Facebook, and I thought – cool, might go have a look. But I was too shy to go by myself. It took a lot of convincing from my mates who are all high up there in rugby/league. 

I’m 26. At the time I didn’t really have a job and I lacked confidence, and life was all about my daughter. Now I am a member of the Northland Women’s FPC Rugby team, I get out in the community and help coach teams, I’m talking in schools about my journey, I’m doing a personal trainer course and I plan to join the Police one day in the future. Rawinia has helped me a lot, and has got me way out of my old comfort zone!

My goals now are to keep inspiring others, learn more and give back to my community. And another really important goal is to help my daughter to keep thinking about her future – to help her set goals and do what she loves. I am parenting quite differently now.

My whānau are all so proud of me – my parents and all my brothers and sisters.