Whether or not they hang on in the Farah Palmer Cup top tier this season, Bay of Plenty Volcanix skipper Christie Yule believes the side have made their point following back-to-back wins over Taranaki and Auckland.
“Yeah I think we definitely have,” she says. “And I think that’s probably credit to the girls. We’ve been putting in a lot of hard yards, off the field as much as on the field, so I think we’ve finally arrived.
“We’ve got to a point now where we’re showing why we should be part of the Premiership, and hopefully we’ll stay in there for future seasons.”
They finished the regular season in fifth place after a narrow 26-22 loss on Saturday to 2016 champions and last year’s runners-up, Counties Manukau. Although they couldn’t hold on to a 22-7 halftime lead, their strong showing proved again that they belong at the top level.
To stay there, though, they now face a rematch with Auckland tomorrow at Tauranga Domain in a sudden-death relegation playoff.
It’s tough at the top sometimes.
They’re in something of a slump at the moment, finishing sixth and bottom of the Premiership table, but Auckland are the traditional powerhouse of women’s rugby with 15 titles to their name.
Getting their first ever win over them in their history-making effort at Eden Park - the spiritual home of New Zealand rugby - shows the progress that has been made over a number of years by a Volcanix team which arrived in the Premiership after last year’s Championship division final victory over Otago.
“We knew it was going to be tough coming up into the top division this year,” says Christie, “and we had a tough start with Canterbury being our first game. But we said right from the get-go that we were going to keep our own game plan, test it out and apply ourselves as much as we could to it.
“I guess it’s starting to pay off for us now, and I think we’ve bonded a lot more as a team and that’s starting to show on the field.
“Success breeds success. We didn’t necessarily come into the season thinking this would be the year for Auckland, but we’ve been showing over the previous seasons that we’ve been closing the gap, and I think we just had the right people in the right places and we had the right intentions.
“One thing lead to another and we managed to get over the line for that one.”
Now they must repeat the dose to protect their top-tier status in Saturday’s 11:30am kick-off at Tauranga Domain, ahead of the Steamers’ Mitre 10 Cup season swansong against Northland.
Any other result would defy the sense of destiny about the team, which echoes Christie’s own arrival in the game she loves.
Since moving from her home town of Hamilton to Papamoa, and through her student days at Mount Maunganui College, netball had been her game, but she always had other plans in the back of her mind.
“I was lucky enough to do a lot of volunteer stuff as well as playing and coaching,” she explains, “and got an award from Netball New Zealand for my contribution to netball, so that was quite cool.
“Then I went off to university and really let loose on the rugby career.
“I always wanted to play rugby, but my parents didn’t want me to get injured.
“It was funny because I played numerous different sports and I got injured in all of them, including netball, so I just turned around in my last year of school and said ‘well, I’m getting injured in everything else, why not let me have a go at rugby?’, and that was it really.
“I really enjoy netball and still have a passion for it, but my overall love was always rugby and once I got amongst that environment it was hard to split my time between the two sports and university, so I just stuck with rugby.
“I always bonded with my father and family over watching rugby when I was younger and just sort of got the bug for it I guess.”
She also credits her parents with helping her develop the leadership abilities which have made her a natural for the captaincy role she relishes with the Volcanix.
“Yeah I love it,” she says. “I always find it to be such a privilege to get a role like that, and to have the respect of my peers and also my management is amazing.
“I credit my family with a great upbringing, and my parents themselves are leaders in their own right, so I suppose they passed a bit of that on to me.
“I was lucky enough when I was younger at high school to get quite a few leadership roles, so I think that all helped to develop me into the role that I’m in now.”
Her captaincy of the Volcanix is one of the key factors in their recent success, though she herself is reluctant to admit it.
“Reluctant, yes that’s it,” says Christie. “Having people in positions where they can help lead and influence and mentor is one of the big things, and we’re quite lucky in the Volcanix this year that we’ve got quite a few experienced girls that are mentoring the young ones to come through.”
Coach Brendon Webby is in no doubt of the contribution her leadership makes.
“She’s instrumental,” he says. “She’s a natural leader of this group. Every single person within the group respects Christie, with the way she goes about her work and the way she handles herself on-and-off the field.
“She’s a top lady and she deserves all the accolades she gets. To get captains that can draw everybody in and get the best out of people - it’s pretty challenging at times - but she’s one of those people that can actually do that, so a lot of credit needs to go to her.”