Olympics inspire NZ women's sevens squad
Captain Huriana Manuel and her New Zealand women's sevens squad need only pick up the TV remote control to get inspiration for their campaign that finally starts in Fiji on Friday.
The London Games are a constant reminder of the goal ahead as their sport gets set to join the Olympics programme in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
After a robust talent identification system that searched a wide variety of athletes, Huriana's squad of 12 is ready for action at the Oceania championships under the guidance of coach Sean Horan.
It's the start of a four-year journey to Brazil that will take the women to all parts of the globe as they look to attain the coveted status of their world champion male counterparts and their World Cup dominating Black Ferns women's 15s side.
Huriana has been soaking up the action from London.
“It's a good motivation of where we want to aspire to be in four years' time. It's awesome watching the Olympics,” said Manuel, a 25-year-old who has been with the Black Ferns since 2005 and is thrilled with the challenge of the sevens game which she has only dabbled with in the past.
“It's a great opportunity . . . Who can say they have been to the Olympics?
"I think it's great for the women's game and so exciting for the younger generation to look forward to this. We've never had anything like it before. The Olympics are the ultimate."
The squad, which includes former Northern Mystics netball players Kayla McAlister and Portia Woodman, wrapped up a two-day training camp in Auckland yesterday.
Manuel declared her satisfaction with their training progress but admitted they were now eager for action.
“We've got experienced girls who have played 15s before and a lot of athletic girls who haven't played sevens. Some of the other countries have had more game time than us but it shouldn't take us long [to catch up] once we start. We're all focused. It's very exciting- we can't wait for Fiji.”
She said they were out to make their own name but realised the standards that were constantly being set by New Zealand rugby teams. “There's a little bit of pressure but it's the pressure we put on ourselves rather than from other people. We hold our standards really high.”
The legendary training regimes set down by sevens guru Gordon Tietjens are well known.
“Yeah, the buildup has been fitness, fitness, fitness. But that's what you expect when you play sevens. It's a fast game and you have to be fit,” Manuel said.
The Oceania championships feature eight teams. New Zealand are in Pool B with Fiji, Cook Islands and Tonga. Australia head Pool A which includes Samoa, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
New Zealand women's sevens squad: Shakira Baker, Kendra Cocksedge, Moana Forbes, Sarah Goss, Charlene Halapua, Linda Itunu, Huriana Manuel (capt), Kayla McAlister, Tyla Nathan-Wong, Hazel Tubic, Ruby Tui, Portia Woodman