Natalie Delamere (Te Whānau-a-Apanui) turned down the chance to play for the Chiefs Manawa in Sky Super Rugby Aupiki because she wanted to concentrate on the specific position of hooker. The Chiefs preference for Delamere was to switch between hooker and eight where she also has considerable experience.
Matatū was more accommodating to Delamere’s request so she relocated to the South Island, flatting with Black Ferns Kendra Reynolds and Kendra Cocksedge.
Unfortunately coronavirus prevented Delamere from showing her best in Aupiki. However, a crucial connection was established at Matatū which eventually helped Delamere catch the eyes of the Black Ferns selectors.
“They brought over Wallaroos first-five Arabella McKenzie. I saw her in the airport as she was heading back to Australia and I was going home to the North Island. I said, ‘bye Belle have a good life, I might not see you again.’ When I got back to the North Island she texted me asking if I’d like to come over to Sydney and play for the Waratahs in Super Rugby W. I was on the first plane out,” Delamere said.
“I was the third-choice hooker. They needed some cover. As soon as I arrived the other two hookers got injured.”
Delamere quickly stamped her mark in the Waratahs. Following a bench debut against Fijian Dura on April 1 she scored two tries against the Reds in her next appearance and another against the same opponent in the semi-final as the Waratahs charged into the decider against Fijian Dura, riding a 21-game unbeaten streak.
“The Waratahs are like a family. I could be myself and play my own game. It was awesome”
The final of Super Rugby W on April 23 was an exciting occasion. Fijian Dura, in their first season competing, upset their highly-fancied opponents 32-26 in a thriller. Delamere did her best to arrest the Fijians momentum by scoring three tries.
“The Waratahs play a similar style to New Zealand teams, it’s just those one-percenters that separate a good team from a bad team.
“The day after I got back from Australia I got the call up to the Black Ferns. I didn’t expect it at all. I didn’t even know I was in the running. I was totally speechless.”
Assistant coach Whitney Hansen made the call. Delamere worked with Hansen at Matatū and already the pair are resolving ways to strengthen the Black Ferns set-piece.
“You can’t really score a try without a set-piece. The maul is a big part of the game nowadays. If you go in half-hearted it’s not going to go well for you. If you're given the resources and skills to stop it, you’ve got a good chance of stopping it.”
The timber town of Murupara sits at the edge of the Kaingaroa Forest about an hour southeast of Rotorua. Natalie’s parents Melody and Edward own the only Motor Camp and cafe (De'cafe Murupara) in the town.
“I’m the third of four siblings and my parents worked hard to make sure we could all be educated in the city. I took a bus an hour each way everyday to Rotorua Girls. My Mum worked an hour away for the Whakatāne District Council and dad was a bushman in Tokoroa. He’d rise before 5am and we didn’t see much of him.
“If it wasn’t for my Dad I would never have played rugby. I played basketball and netball. In Year 11 I saw one of my sister's games and went ‘gosh that looks like so much fun.’ I asked my sister if I could play and she said no. I asked Mum if I could play and she said no. When I asked Dad he said, ‘yes baby.’
In 2014, while still at high school, Delamere was selected for the Bay of Plenty Volcanix. She played 19 games, before switching to Waikato in 2016.
“It was quite daunting playing FPC [Farah Palmer Cup] so young. You have to learn on the go. You get thrown into uncomfortable situations and have to be able to adapt quickly.
“Waikato taught me what hard work was all about. We had a trainer called Bones and he made us have stronger mindsets. He’d hammer us. Seeing people next to you dying as much as you are builds your resilience and determination.”
Delamere has played for the Rangiuru, Rotoiti, Waikato University and Mount Maunganui rugby clubs. She identified Honey Hireme-Smiler as her favorite Black Fern. She met Honey when the Black Ferns had a training session at Rotorua Girls’ High School in 2014.
It’s possible Delamere could make her Test debut on June 6 against Australia when the Pacific Four Series kicks off at the Tauranga Domain. If selected Delamere warned, “she’ll bring a few tricks” having played with and against most of the Wallaroos in Super Rugby W.
Tickets are still available at all three Pacific Four Series venues, in Tauranga, Waitākere and Whangārei. Don't miss out and get your tickets HERE.