Talented players have league success

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Ripena Vaeila Umaga (left) and Naite Tuamoheloa, both 15, selected for the Canterbury Under 16s Regional Squad girls rugby league team.

Two promising rugby league players have gained selection for the Canterbury U16s regional squad and have their sights on higher honours.

The team won the Southern Regional Tournament last weekend in Christchurch, and will go on to represent the South Island in the national tournament.

Naite Tuamoheloa and Ripena Vaeila Umaga have only been playing league for one season but the talented duo have already been singled out by selectors.

The girls play in the newly formed Hakatere Vaine Toa league team which started September last year.

Team manager Marie Maeva said rugby league is small compared to rugby union

“But women’s league is even smaller, this is the first girls side in Ashburton, the sport is quite small in the Mid Canterbury region so we’re trying to grow it,” she said.

The girls were surprised and stoked when they got the news of their selection for the squad.

Naite who is just starting out in the sport, has a background in volleyball and netball was shocked when she heard the news.

“It was shocking because this is the first time I have played league,” she said.

“I was so surprised when I found out, I couldn’t talk, I was like are you sure they got the right name? I was so happy, its like a blessing,” she said.

Ripena suffered a set back in the lead up to last weekend’s tournament with covid hitting her family and isolation rules.

But was later confirmed as a squad member to ensure the team had adequate coverage in the event of covid affecting other players.

Hakatere Vaine Toa coach DJ Tupaea said he was thrilled the girls had been selected as the team is not even one year old.

“I’m glad the opportunity is out there for a lot of these girls, these girls who have just started are going up against very seasoned players,” he said.

There was now more opportunities for women’s league, Ripena said.

“We encourage younger girls to get into league as the woman’s league is getting bigger and women are getting paid to play league now, so girls should take the opportunity to try it out,” she said.

-By Daniel Tobin