AllBlacks.com talks to Black Ferns prop Aleisha-Pearl Nelson (Ngatiwai, Ngapuhi, Ngati Hine), and hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengemate (Ngati Hine), about the allure of Northland and what it will mean to play in RWC 2021 there.
Aleisha-Pearl grew up in Whananaki on the east coast, north of Whangarei, and her face lights up at the mention of her childhood in the country.
“It was just so much fun. We would only do outdoor things – we didn’t watch TV or play on computers.
“It was a tight community, and everyone knew everyone and helped each other out. When you’re a kid everyone knew who you belonged to and was so supportive of each other. If someone couldn’t pick up their kids or take them to sport, someone else would help out.”
Aleisha Pearl’s parents still live up north, now on the west coast, north of Dargaville in a place called Aranga and Aleisha-Pearl heads up there from her home in Auckland – a three-and-a-half hour drive - whenever she can.
“It’s where my heart is and it’s where I’ll end up living,” she says.
Northland has also captured Te Kura’s heart since moving to Pamapuria near Kaitaia three years ago to help out her partner’s whanau.
She says she feels lucky to have found her place, and like Aleisha-Pearl, has found her new community to be very caring and family orientated, and the kind of place where people look after each other. However, she still needed to prove her rugby skills when it came to joining the local rugby club.
“There was pressure to live up to my name and I had to trial for my club team just like everyone else. But the support for club rugby is unreal. Even at a club final the crowd is like something you’d see at a provincial match.
“There is so much rugby talent up here and it’s getting better and better. Players are not timid and are ready to get stuck in, and they are dedicated. Northland is a huge province and it’s not unusual for players to drive for a couple of hours each way to go to training.”
Aleisha-Pearl and Te Kura are confident that kind of community pride and support will embrace the Rugby World Cup next year.
“For the Rugby World Cup, the whole stadium will be packed out, there’s so much interest up here in rugby,” Te Kura says.
The stands are likely to be filled with Aleisha-Pearl’s family and people she grew up with who still live locally.
“They love to see how people from the community are doing. They have all played a part in helping me get there. They feel like they have succeeded as well. I didn’t get here by myself and it means so much to everyone. The knowledge, the help, the encouragement, everyone helped me along the way and want to be part of it too,” she says.
Aleisha-Pearl and Te Kura agree there’s a special bond among the Black Ferns who call Northland home. The group includes the likes of Eloise Backwell (Ngati Wai and Ngati Whatua) and Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu (Te Uri Taniwha, Ngati Hineira, Ngapuhi, Ngai Tahuhu).
“Everyone who comes from Northland, just loves Northland. We definitely have a thing as Northland Black Ferns. We have a special connection, and it means so much that the Rugby World Cup will be played there,” Aleisha-Pearl says.
Rugby World Cup 2021 takes place from 18 September – 16 October and matches will be played at Northland Events Centre in Whangarei, Waitakere Events Centre and Eden Park. The official pool draw for the tournament took place last week, with the Black Ferns drawn in Pool A alongside Australia, Wales and a final qualifier winner. The Black Ferns will play their opening match at Eden Park on 18 September.
Head HERE for all details about Rugby World Cup 2021.