Stayin’ in the Game

I’m a dealer of hope,  in the business of helping people reach and exceed their full potential. So when my Canterbury Knights’ starting lock and future All Black student asked,Hey Miss, do you reckon your 8-year-old daughter will stick with League or switch to Rugby? What’s it going to take for her to stay in the game?”

His questions stopped me in my tracks.

In 2015,  a gifted athlete Corrina Whiley (Canterbury NPC, NZ touch) said, “I have a dream of getting a Black Jersey!” So Vix and I started the Papanui Tigers team in 2016, holding on to the hope that if we provided the space, women would come.

Vix’s background in youth development and as an international athlete was perfect for coaching our athletes to reach and exceed their potential. Having coached Corrina and some of our other key leaders since they were 13 years old meant Vix had some solid relationships to build upon. My desire to develop leadership skills both on and off the field and to form a strategy around legacy complemented her nicely.

I can tell you that #Purpose- resolve and determination is our bottom line.

Rugby league is an incredible vehicle to teach self-reliance and to trust that your uso’s have got your back, especially if someone runs a mean line on your defence!

When you miss out on selection or when you lose, you learn how to revise your goals and readjust your mindset to smash them the next time around. Rugby league is #MoreThanJustAGame, we are creating future pathways of hope and kindness literacy that paves the way for the enhancement of our women’s self-esteem and self-worth.

For some it’s the Black Jersey. For some it’s to lose weight. For some it’s to laugh because everything else is dark at the moment. For some, it’s because our dad’s or family were/are awesome Rugby League players. For some it is simply to be a part of something great, because in creating moments that matter and knowing the sisters are in our corner, this rugby league journey helps us find  greatness within ourselves.

If you could measure profit, this is what our balance sheet would look like after a year in the business.

Papanui Tigers Premier Women’s 2017

Inventory: 25 players, 1 coach, 1 trainer, 1 manager, 1 strategy advisor.


KiwiFerns: Corrina Whiley, Bunty Crowe (2017)

KiwiFerns wider squad: Charntay Poko, Stacey Hildreth (a few other fringe players)

Canterbury Reps 2016:  10

2016:  Winner Mary Brennan 9’s tournament. Winner Premier Women’s Grade. Undefeated all season-  661 pts For / 112 pts Against. 

Top 3 scorers in the grade:  Charntay Poko 155 points, (10 tries, 57 goals) Corrina Whiley 120 points (30 tries) Stacey Hildreth 66 points (16 tries, 1 goal) 

Culture/Values:  Integrity, Excellence, Teamwork and Aiga/Whanau

Theoretical Underpinnings of our Team: Cultural Intelligence, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology, Youth Development theory, Whare Tapa Wha. 

Community Work: Mentoring, Coaching, Youth speakers at University of Canterbury, Positive Youth Development PD, Performing Arts, NZRL Education Talks, Crosbie 9’s facilitation, Volunteers,  Leadership In Communities (LinC) Programme.

FullSizeRender (31)
Corrina Whiley on the eve of her Anzac Test debut.

Our grade rises on the Wahine gone before, whose hopes and dreams have been bent even further than their backs.

When Ruamoko rocked this city in 2011, he shook with it the women’s rugby league grade. A remnant of volunteers became the structural and systemic backbone that took it from nothing, to a two team competition in 2015 to the thriving 2017 competition boasting women’s teams from Hornby, Celebration, Linwood, Woolston, Aranui and Papanui.

The women’s league in Christchurch is growing exponentially whilst the rest of NZ isn’t. We are doing some awesome things:  A recent women’s performance camp and Canterbury Coach Michael Linton being named as assistant Kiwi Ferns Coach.

Yet even in the face of these successes,  I am disturbed at the glaring inequalities, the clear disparities in the facilities, equipment and scheduling for our code in the city.

  • In the wintry conditions, do our women’s teams have indoor training options and wet weather gear?
  • What do we have to do to get “Team of the year” at our club prize givings?
  • How do we celebrate and acknowledge our high achieving players?
  • The 2017 Women’s National competition is in Auckland on Queen’s birthday weekend. Many of our Canterbury women are culling the cost of this weekend tournament by only purchasing part of the list of Canterbury gear.  For the university students, that’s a lot of sausage sizzles or a serious 40x  $20 lotto bonus ticket hustle. For those that work, it’s only one or two paychecks to make ends meet and raise the few hundred dollars needed to represent Canterbury.
  • How do you articulate a value proposition to would-be sponsors when there is little or no visibility in media? Have we seen an article or profile where Bunty and Corrina have been interviewed in the two weeks since making the kiwi ferns? Do Cantabrians know Corrina turned down an NPC rugby jersey last year (free uniform, gear, Air New Zealand travel and first class accommodation) to fundraise her $400 fees to represent Canterbury Rugby League in pursuit of the Black jersey?
  • Do we ever hear about the phenomenal stats like Charntay Poko scoring 36 points or Stacey Hildreth already chalking up 7 tries in the two Premier women’s games this year?

And yet there is no shortage of male profiles and writeups in the paper and social media.

“What’s it going to take for her to stay Miss?”

 I don’t know.

But noticing the ‘struggle’ women face and talking about these differences will be extremely valuable in moving towards change.

In our club revivals and disruptions, we can acknowledge, share and advance our strengths and practices that are working well.

In valuing our talented female athletes highly,  possible partners will see our untapped potential and come talk at the table. An investment into these athletes is one which yields returns in community and whanau leadership. And every conversation and priority action step towards growing this game counts.

“Miss do you reckon she’ll switch?”

I don’t know. She’s a Lavea. An Inu. And a Timo.

But I do know she knows the names: Jerusha Whiley. Stacey Hildreth. Yasmin Puru. Kadi Robertson. Epenesa Ki. Carissa Leka. Raneigh Smith. Katey Arona. Milli Mills. Michelle Wong. Melissa McGlynn. Charntay Poko.  

And when Hadassah dons her Tigers jersey this Saturday morning and is reminded she’s the only girl in the team, she’ll hold her head a little bit higher, run a little bit harder, knowing that black jersey dreams are possible thanks to her Aunties Bunty and Corrina. (Top & Bottom Left)  Kiwiferns

That alone gives me Hope. Haka as mean as you play ladies!

Till next time,


Daisy Speaks (Former NPC rugby player, current Rugby League enthusiast/strategic advisor)



  1. Beautiful piece. As a devout league enthusiast , and so-called scholar, I find this so inspiring. The majority of my academic research has examined the beautiful code, and through my own fault, little of my research has looked at women in the sport. Maybe one day, when I finish my current projects, I will get to that. But, reading this and feeling your passion for the game, and those who play it, I am buoyed with optimism that with women such as yourself and those students of mine at UC (Charntay and Corrina) taking the reigns here in Christchurch, there is some hope for our future generations of women athletes in the code we love so much. It must be so much more difficult being a minority gender, in a minority sport, that is deemed only suitable for minority cultures. Chur much, loved it. Thank you.


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