Being named as part of the 26-strong Black Ferns squad is a dream come true for Jackie Patea, but it has been a hard road to take the field wearing the black jersey.
The team left for a three-game tour of England on Sunday, and Patea is looking forward to her first taste of international competition.
The 26-year-old lock captained the Wellington Pride NPC team this year and earlier in the season was part of the Wainuiomata Club team that claimed the Victoria Tavern Trophy.
"I'm hoping to try and make the [final team of] 22, I'm going to train hard," she says.
As well as juggling motherhood and fulltime work with training, she is coming back from a knee injury received in a collision with a team-mate in a representative game against Canterbury.
Niggles with her knee relegated Patea to non-contact training at a Black Ferns' training camp in Auckland earlier this month. But all going well, the strained medial ligament should be ready to play on for the tour, she says.
She is relishing the chance to take her game one step further, and the Black Ferns have been welcoming. But world champions, England, are a formidable team to be faced for a first international outing.
"I've heard they are big and muscular," she says.
"That's the only country that's professional. So they don't have to work fulltime, they pretty much live at the gym."
Patea has concentrated on her strength this season, working on a training programme with ex- Petone Club men's players Fred Fereti, her partner, and his cousin Brian Faitele.
"This year I had a one-on-one meeting [with Black Squads coach Brian Evans]. He said . . . they wanted me to get a bit more physicality into my game.
"I was stronger, that's for sure. I was able to move bodies on the field better as well.
"Not only tackles, but in the ruck situation, cleaning the opposition out, I was more effective this season than last."
Her next challenge is to concentrate on getting lower in tackles and rucks, she says.
But she is hopeful she will not be the sole Wellington Black Fern for long, naming Maryann Collins as another up-and- comer.
"I'm trying to egg on a few of the other NPC ladies to try to aim for that - I think they have the potential to make it that far."
Ideally, she would like to be wearing the black jersey in the 2014 World Cup in Paris, shoulder to shoulder with a few more Wellington teammates, she says.
- Hutt News