Taranaki's sevens girls hitting the big time
For some, the decision to contract two Taranaki girls to the national sevens programme was seen as a bit out of left field.
Anyone who has seen Michaela Blyde and Gayle Broughton play knows it wasn't.
The delightful duo brighten up any room with their infectious smiles and youthful humour.
Put them on a footy field and they are the complete opposite though, as they play with the sort of determination most coaches spend hours hoping to get out of their charges.
Blyde, 18, and Broughton, 17, are markedly different players.
The daughter of former Black Fern Cherry Blyde, Michaela posses an amazing turn of foot, can step off both feet, swerve and take the outside space like a seasoned pro. She's also fearless.
Broughton is an out and out playmaker, can step late, see gaps and dummy her way out of the tightest of spots.
One of those gifted with natural talent, she comes from a proud Hawera family which includes her uncle Adrian, who played first five-eighth for Taranaki.
Players of the future or players of the now?
We will probably know inside 12 months, but the fact they have been contracted to the New Zealand Rugby Union means they are firmly in coach Sean Horan's plans.
"I'm really happy for the two youngsters," Horan said earlier this month. "They proved they've got what it takes to succeed at this level at the national sevens in Rotorua where they were real standouts.
"We are building great depth in the sevens game in this country and I saw plenty of talent across all teams in Rotorua. There were some hard calls to make for this squad, but we needed to balance our needs for the World Series this year against our need to have a squad capable of winning in Rio in 2016. So I am happy with the mix of youth and experience in this squad which equips us well for the challenges ahead."
In between their regular trips to the Taranaki Rugby Football Union's academy, the girls are learning about the realities of working and training - their contract with the NZRU barely covering costs.
Blyde plans to help out on the family farm and to start a bachelor of sport and exercise through Massey University, while Broughton is attending Witt to do a national certificate in fitness.
It all seems surreal for the pair who were spotted less than two years ago during the NZRU's Go4Gold talent identification programme.
"It's gone very fast and the contract has made things become more real and shows just how serious it is," Blyde said. "It's very exciting stuff and we can't wait for the future."
Speaking about their contracts, the girls said it was "just enough" to help out with training expenses.
"At this stage it's a bit surreal, being a contracted rugby player, and to look ahead at just what we could be doing in the future just makes it a bit more exciting," Blyde said.
Looking back to what prompted Broughton to get involved in rugby, she said it was simply in her genes and the fact she was very much a tomboy.
She's also had plenty of encouragement, with grandmother Patsy Broughton more often than not ferrying her up to New Plymouth to train.
"She's made a lot of sacrifices, given up a lot of her time just to get me up here for early morning trainings and other stuff," she said.
"It just means a lot. I'm not too good with pencil and pens but give me a ball and I'll show you a few tricks."
Blyde had an early introduction to the game, turning out for her Clifton club when she was five.
"I was tiny and that put me off playing rugby for a while, so I took to playing soccer and athletics. But when I got to 16 I decided to give rugby a go at school and it just happened to be the time Go4Gold came up.
"I gave it a go and look where we are today."
As for their hopes ahead, the Olympics shone bright.
First they will have to break into the national squad to attend some International Rugby Board tournaments.
Not so easy, given how well the national side was performing.
"If that doesn't happen we know we'll still be in the mix, so that's going to drive us to train hard," Blyde said.
Taranaki Daily News