“In May [last year], I found out I had bone spurs on my spinal cord. There was a period where I wasn’t sure if I could play again. In October, the surgeon told me they could operate,” McMenamin reflected.
“I’ve had a lot of surgeries but I underestimated how tough this one would be. I didn’t realise I’d be bed ridden for four days and struggling to walk.
“Then going from walking to running threw in challenges I didn’t expect. My lung capacity was shot because it was around my rib cage. It’s definitely been a journey.”
Prior to injury, and the start of the Covid pandemic, McMenamin was officially the best player in New Zealand - named New Zealand women’s player of the year at the 2019 Rugby Awards.
She played every single minute of the Black Ferns Super Series triumph against England, Canada, France and the USA in San Diego. Then she scored three tries in two Tests against Australia as the Black Ferns successfully retained the O'Reilly Cup.
A lot has changed in the Black Ferns environment since 2019. Heavy defeats on the Northern Tour to France and England was followed by a change in coaching staff.
All Blacks World Cup winners Wayne Smith, Sir Graham Henry and Mike Cron, along with Whitney Hansen and Wes Clarke, are now running the show.
“It’s been a massive buzz being back in the Black Ferns environment. The girls are really happy and say what they want to say. Everyone has a voice, everyone is heard and everyone is willing to learn.”
She has played 25 Tests since her debut in a 29-10 win against England in Auckland in 2013. In 2017, she started the World Cup final, a 41-32 triumph against the English in Ireland.
The prospect of defending that title on home soil is salivating for McMenamin.
“I remember the days where you barely got a Test match at home let alone a World Cup. Rugby is the number one sport in New Zealand so it will be awesome to have a World Cup here.”
McMenamin has played 16 of her Tests abroad. The Black Ferns have only played 31 out of 106 Tests at home.
Next Saturday at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch the Black Ferns host Australia in the first of two Tests in the O'Reilly Cup series.
The Black Ferns were in camp in Auckland last week and have begun preparations in Christchurch this week.
They were training with the Westlake Boys’ High School First XV last week. Westlake is the most successful First XV on the North Shore having won the Premier competition 17 times since its inception in 1985. Westlake has won all 12 1A matches in 2022.
“I thought the boys would be a bit stand-offish but they’ve got stuck in. It’s been good going up against stronger young fellas.”
McMenamin can cover blindside or eight. Her experience and versatility is an obvious asset but youngsters Alana Bremner, Tafito Lafaele and Kaipo Olsen-Baker are strong rivals for a starting Test spot.