Rana Paraha (Ngatihine / Ngapuhi) saw no urgent need to attend but she showed up anyway because that’s what a fiercely committed stalwart does.
When she ran into her cousin Eileen Mangu and other family at the event she sensed something was up.
“Eileen never goes to those things unless I take her. I asked ‘who invited you?’ She’s a comedian and answered ‘the phone.’ When they announced the senior trophy was named after me I was speechless. I didn’t want it named after me but I’m truly humbled,” Paraha said.
Submissions for a new name for a newly designed trophy still being constructed were sought. Rana Paraha was a resounding winner.
“My choice of a name was Wāhine Toa. I had a speech prepared to explain why. There are so many honourable women who’ve contributed to rugby in Northland. I wanted the trophy to reflect players past, present and future rather than a single individual.”
Paraha debuted for Hora Hora in 1996. Despite reconstructions of both knees she played as recently as 2018 aged 50. She has helped Hora Hora win 17 senior championships. As a coach, organiser and advocate she has performed every role in the game from washing jerseys to mentoring leading Black Ferns, including Krystal Murray, Charmaine McMenamin, Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu and her daughter Leilani Perese. Paraha is rugby Wāhine Toa.
Bullrush was almost a rite of passage for Kiwi kids in the 70s. The often violent schoolyard game was keenly contested at Hurupaki Primary School. Paraha stood out for her bravery so a teacher tried to get her involved in rugby. The former All Black’s request for Paraha to play was denied.
“Bevan Holmes was my teacher and he was really encouraging. I didn’t know he was an All Black until he showed me a picture of himself in Grant Batty’s book. Mum bought me Grant’s book and it was my favourite gift. When I couldn’t play rugby I played soccer and eventually went to league.”
Her mother Phoebe had a photo on the wall playing for a hospital laundromat team. Eventually Rana was able to play rugby when she moved to Auckland and played for Manukau Rovers in 1988 and 1989.
“Marist and Ponsonby were the strong clubs in those days. Anna Richards was unbelievable and later on Monique Hirovanaa was my favourite Black Fern.
“I started on the wing but when we played on a sheep paddock I did my knee stepping into a hole and couldn’t sprint. I eventually moved to prop and much preferred it. In the forwards it’s more exciting. You’re closer to the action and can get stuck in. In the backs’ you’ve got all this space to cover and if someone gets past you it’s all over.”
The inaugural Northland rep team was picked in 1992 and thereafter regular fixtures involving Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Waikato and North Harbour were contested. The club competition peaked in the mid 90s with a dozen teams playing each other at one club on a Sunday. The host club turned over a small fortune in beverage sales.
“The thing I’ve most enjoyed about playing rugby at any level is team ethics. It’s about connection and whānau. I’ve played with people I went to school with, worked with and who are 30 years younger than me.”
In 1999 the official National Provincial Championship was born, but Northland was consigned to the second division and unfortunately folded in the early 2000s. Northland women’s rugby never entirely disappeared.
“We’ve been down to four teams and up to six teams. We’ve carried on because we’ve got committed and passionate people who support each other. Trevor Kelly and Puhi Mackie have coached for years. Susan Dawson, Cheryl Waaka and Janet Heenan are Black Ferns I see around. Freda Wiki (cousin of Ruben Wiki) is awesome. Too many people to mention.”
Until Northland returned to the Farah Palmer Cup in 2019, Māori rugby was one of the few pathways for ambitious talent in Northland to be recognised. Paraha assisted Te Hiku O Te Ika, the Blues region team that contested an annual tournament against Te Tini a Maui (Central) and Te Waipounamu (South Island) in Taupo. Black Ferns Rawinia Everitt and Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate featured in the tournament.
Former Black Fern Vania Wolfgramm has worked closely with Paraha in her role as Development Manager for New Zealand Rugby. In 2013 the Pasifika Aotearoa Cup was formed to provide more playing opportunities for females and build stronger relationships within the Pacific and Māori communities. The format evolves organically to fit needs at the time. In 2020 a Sevens tournament in Auckland attracted 27 teams from New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and the Cook Islands.
“When women’s rugby almost disappeared in Northland, Aunty Rana was still standing. Her contacts, generosity, initiative and Mana in the community have been crucial in the survival and growth of the game,” Wolfgramm said.
Paraha believes that building a base of junior players is essential for survival and she has worked tirelessly in the secondary school and club space to build and sustain numbers. She coached the Northland Secondary Schools team for several seasons and currently mentors the Hora Hora Under-16s.
In October Whangarei will host 11 Rugby World Cup matches, including two quarter finals. The only previous occasion Whangarei has hosted a Black Ferns test was in 2003.
“That was against the World XV and New Zealand won 38-19. I was a liaison officer for the World XV. The World Cup is going to be massive for Whangarei. It’s going to be good for our young wāhine to see that calibre of player in a small town.”
There are five teams in the 2022 Rana Paraha Trophy: Hora Hora, Hokianga, Kaikohe, Te Rarawa and Moerewa. City and Dargaville Old Boys were close to assembling sufficient numbers.
For nine years Paraha has been a physical education teacher at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Rāwhitiroa, where she’s also been instrumental in the development of kī-o-rahi.
Susan Dawson is assistant coach of Northland Kauri and played in their first official game in 1992. She paid tribute to ‘Aunty.’
“I had the wonderful opportunity to have a meal with the Black Ferns a few years ago in Tauranga and happened to have a quick chat with Leilani Perese. We were discussing the game up North and of course Rana came up in our conversation. Leilani remarked, ‘Rana never stops.’ There’s never been a truer word said.”
View a video tribute from the Northland Rugby Facebook page HERE.