Rebekah Tufuga returns for Manawatu women's National Sevens title defence

Rebekah Tufuga, pictured here at the Dubai Sevens in December, will play her first tournament for Manawatu this season ...
Francois Nel

Rebekah Tufuga, pictured here at the Dubai Sevens in December, will play her first tournament for Manawatu this season at the National Sevens in Rotorua on the weekend.

The Manawatu women's sevens team have added one further ace to their deck as they prepare to defend their National Sevens title in Rotorua this weekend.

New Zealand Sevens player Rebekah Tufuga has returned from Hong Kong to boost the side's bid for a fourth title in five years.

Tufuga is yet another classy player to add to Manawatu's already strong squad which has already defended their Central Region and Mount Maunganui Provincial Sevens titles this season.

Her return offsets the loss of Cook Islands international Vaine Greig.

The former New Zealand sevens player reaggravated the hand injury she picked up in the central region qualifiers and has been ruled out of the tournament.

But on a positive note, first-year head coach Mike Pettman said Black Fern Janna Vaughan was "98 percent" likely to play after a head knock last weekend.

She has been named in the side, but Kendall Templeman is on standby if she is ruled out.

Selica Winiata will continue to captain the side and Black Ferns halfback Kristina Sue will likely continue to bring impact off the bench.

New Zealand sevens captain Sarah Goss will be the key player in the forward pack along with the likes of Crystal Mayes, Tufuga and Manawatu Cyclones captain Nicole Dickins.

Manawatu face Waikato, Otago and North Harbour in pool play.

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​Pettman said they would not be taking anyone lightly.

"We will get our challenges and we are just to take each game at a time because sevens is such an interesting beast," he said. "There is always upsets in sevens and as soon as we take someone lightly, that is when chaos will start creeping in."

Memories of 2016 when Canterbury upset Manawatu in pool play will still be fresh in their minds.

That proved to be a minor hitch in the campaign as Manawatu went on to win the title, but it was a reminder what can happen when they are not playing at 100 percent.

Pettman knew the possibility of the team winning their sixth consecutive major tournament (Central Region Sevens, Mount Maunganui Provincial Sevens and National Sevens) would be a topic throughout the weekend, but he stressed the importance of not focusing on the title.

"It is the elephant in the room, but as soon as we start thinking about results, we start getting away what we are trying to achieve," he said. "We can't worry about the outcome; We just have to worry about our own jobs."

Manawatu women's sevens: Selica Winiata (c) (Kia Toa), Sarah Goss (FOB-O), Nicole Dickins (FOB-O), Rachael Rak (FOB-O), Sam Tipene (FOB-O), Rhiarna Ferris (FOB-O), Kristina Sue (FOB-O), Janna Vaughan (Kia Toa), Crystal Mayes (Kia Toa), Rebekah Tufuga (Kia Toa), Krysten Duffill (FOB-O), Lauren Balsillie (FOB-O).

National sevens pool A: Manawatu, Waikato, Otago, North Harbour

 - Stuff

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