STRAIGHT AHEAD: Khytana Tuimaualaga-Smith runs the ball in a warm-up match for Opotiki. Photos Brayden Lindsay D9946-099

THEY may be a lot smaller than their opponents this season, but the Opotiki women’s rugby side are not fazed.

Back in the Baywide women’s senior rugby competition after missing last year, they are looking forward to their first competition match on Sunday. They are playing Mount Maunganui at home in Opotiki.

Coach Richard Wilson said they were ready to go.

“We don’t quite have the size and the bigger ladies to break the line, but we have a team full of heart who are improving every week and are excited to start this weekend.

“If there are any ladies with some size who love rugby and want to give it a crack, we’d love to have you along on a Wednesday.

“We want to see more people giving the sport a go and hopefully begin building something impressive for the future in Opotiki.

“Because if things do go well and we stay committed, then we may be able to attract the likes of Tynealle, Luka (Connor)and my daughter Leah (Wilson) back to play for us, which would be great.”

The Mount team is likely to feature Opotiki’s Tynealle Fitzgerald along with New Zealand Black Ferns Sevens players Alena Saili, Tenika Willison and Cheyelle Robins-Reti on Sunday, providing the Opotiki women with an awesome challenge.

“It will make things pretty tough, but it will be amazing for the girls to play those players from that top level and see what it takes to get there.”

Wilson said the girls had been training well and had a good weekend in Te Teko last weekend where they played a number of warm-up matches.

“It went really well. I am pleased with how things are going. Since the first training back after lockdown the girls have been great.”

He said their focus was just improving each week of the competition.

“We just want to look back on each game and make sure we are improving from where we were the previous week and if we can do that then I will be happy with how things have gone.”

Wilson said the side had four players who travelled two hours from Gisborne to train on Wednesdays and played every week.

“It’s a huge effort from them. I really appreciate their efforts and hope this might inspire a few other who aren’t far from Opotiki, but are not playing, to come back and lace the boots up.”

The side is improving each week but a few to watch include forwards Rangatahi Kurei and Te Aho Jordan, and backs Jade Stacey, Sally Kurei and Kaea Williams.

“They’re exciting. Te Aho loves to tackle and will tackle anything in her way; Rangatahi just leads from the front, while Jade has great skills and is an impressive player.

“Sally, it’s her first time picking a ball up and she’s showing plenty of talent, and Kaea has speed to burn.”

Wilson also takes the Opotiki College girls’ rugby sides for which numbers are strong.

“Hopefully they all carry on playing because it would be great for the area to have the women’s team and school teams as permanents for the foreseeable future.”

Wilson said he and Jimi McLean were also looking at bringing back the Eastern Bay women’s rugby team.

“We’ve talked about it. It might give few more of our girls a chance to make the Volcanix or at least see play at a higher level.”

Also in the women’s draw for this year are Rangataua, Rotoiti, Rangiuru, Waimana and Te Teko, while Ngongotaha pulled out on Tuesday.

KEY PLAYERS: Jade Stacey passes the ball in a pre-season match. Team-mate Te Aho Jordan is in support. Both will be worth watching for Opotiki this season.
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brayden.lindsay@thebeacon.co.nz