Prior to that landmark season, there were a group of determined and talented men and women who paved the way for the stars of today.
Darryl Suasua – As Black Ferns coach Darryl Suasua was twice a World Champion in 1998 and 2002. His contribution wasn’t limited to fifteens. In 1997 and 1999 he coached the New Zealand ‘Wild Ducks’ to Hong Kong Sevens glory. Suasua explains where the idea of the Wild Ducks came from.
“I was looking for more competition and when coaching up in Japan saw this huge, illuminated duck on the wall of a bar and thought Wild Ducks, what a great name for a team, like the Mighty Ducks movie. I got sponsorship from Convert; a rugby apparel company and the Wild Ducks were born. They were a sevens team and internal touring outfit who essentially played New Zealand trials at the end of the NPC.”
In 2000 and 2001 he coached the official New Zealand team to a perfect 22-0 record and in 2009 coached the Black Ferns Sevens at the first World Cup where they were beaten by Australia in the final.
Peter Joseph – New Zealand Rugby officially withdrew funding for Sevens in 2001 so Rotorua coach Peter Joseph (Te Arawa: Tuhourangi; Ngati Pikiao; Ngati Rangitihi) decided he’d raise money to send his Aotearoa Māori Women’s Sevens team formed in 2000 to the Hong Kong Sevens in 2002. The trouble was little money existed to do so until Joseph sold his house so Aotearoa Māori could make the trip. Aotearoa Māori won the tournament and would become a juggernaut.
They won 14 of the 18 tournaments they played between 2000 and 2012, beating 23 different countries with 34 of the 81 women representing the side either Black Ferns or Black Ferns Sevens representatives. Sarah Hirini and Honey Hireme-Smiler are among those who were Aotearoa Māori sevens representatives.
Today Joseph is chief executive of TIASA Te Hononga, representing non-teaching staff employed across the New Zealand tertiary Institute, Polytechnic Sector and Whare Wananga.
Sharleen Nathan (nee Holden) - Nathan was a midfielder for Manawatū and the first officially capped Black Ferns Sevens player. She later coached Manawatū and is presently Deputy Principal at Hamilton Girls’ High School where she’s had a profound effect on rugby. Hamilton has won more national sevens and fifteens titles than any other school. Current Black Ferns Sevens representative Kelsey Teneti identifies Nathan as a key mentor.
Anna Richards – Alongside Dame Farah Palmer, Anna Richards was the first New Zealand woman inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame. Richards was a four-time World Cup winner and a champion of Sevens too. In 1997 she was awarded Player of the Tournament in the New Zealand Wild Ducks' maiden Hong Kong Sevens success. In 2000 and 2001 she was captain of the New Zealand team that went 22-0 and won tournaments in Wellington, Hong Kong, and Japan.
At a domestic level, she was dominant. She captained Auckland to the 2001 National title and the player of the National tournament now receives the Anna Richards Trophy.
Hannah Porter – A classy and versatile back who won the fifteens World Cup in 2002 and 2006, Porter was a natural fit in sevens where she appeared in six tournaments for New Zealand, scoring 20 tries, and captained her country at the inaugural World Cup in Dubai in 2009. In 2000 she was a part of the first New Zealand team to win the Hong Kong Sevens.
Following her decorated playing career, she managed the Black Ferns Sevens between 2013 and 2016. In that role, Porter helped create an environment where New Zealand won the first three World Rugby Sevens Series crowns, as well as a silver medal at the Rio Olympics.
“It was great to see the evolution of sevens. We had all the resources we needed, and the girls were able to create a competitive and special culture that has endured to this day.”
In 2022 she was appointed Head of Women’s High Performance at New Zealand Rugby after a long career with Sport New Zealand.
Tammi Uluinayau (nee Wilson) – A double World Cup winner in 1998 and 2002 out of Auckland, Uluinayau was a prolific scoring fullback and triple international representing New Zealand in touch too. Uluinayau was a member of the 1999 Auckland National title-winning team as well as the first New Zealand team to win the Hong Kong Sevens in 2000. She continues to have an impact administratively as a board member of the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association.
Huriana Manuel-Carpenter - The World Rugby Sevens Series was conceived in 2012, and Manuel was the Black Ferns Sevens' first captain in the series. In the inaugural season, New Zealand won three of four tournaments in Dubai, Guangzhou, and Amsterdam to take overall honours.
Further headway was made in 2013 when New Zealand won the Sevens World Cup for the first time at the vast Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, the site of the 1980 Olympics.
Professional contracts followed with 19 of New Zealand’s leading players earning remuneration for the first time. Top 'tier one' players were entitled to at least $30,000, and 'tier four' players earned at least $15,000.
Manuel appeared in 16 tournaments for New Zealand and scored 25 tries. She was a captain in 11 tournaments and New Zealand won 10/14 tournaments in the World Series from 2012 to 2014 when Manuel was the helm.
In 2022 she was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame.