January 16, 2023

League and Sevens Stars Sign with Waitomo Chiefs Manawa

The Chiefs Rugby Club today announced the signing of Tenika Willison, Abigail Roache, Apii Nicholls and Harono Te Iringa to the Waitomo Chiefs Manawa for the 2023 Sky Super Rugby Aupiki season.

Te Iringa rejoins the Waitomo Chiefs Manawa after an outstanding 2022 season with the team, whilst Willison, Roache and Nicholls bring a new skill set from their backgrounds in Sevens and rugby league. They join the squad as replacement players for Renee Wickliffe (retiring), Pia Tapsell (ACL injury), Chelsea Semple (maternity leave) and Merania Paraone (playing overseas).

Tenika Willison is a current Black Ferns Sevens player who was a part of the gold medal-winning side at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. She also earnt a bronze medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Willison has been a standout player since a young age, representing New Zealand in Touch and beginning her training with the Black Ferns Sevens team at just 16 years old. She has notched up an impressive 76 points for the Black Ferns Sevens from 42 starts since her debut in 2016.

Waitomo Chiefs Manawa Head Coach Crystal Kaua said: “Tenika’s vision-decision and ability to see the game, creating space for others and herself has always been special. She is a triple threat, her skillset and ability to execute that under pressure will be massive for us. She also adds so much off the field, she’s a real champion of the unseen māhi and we can’t wait to have her in our environment.”

Willison said: “I’m looking forward to jumping back into the home colours, getting amongst the team culture and seeing what the Waitomo Chiefs Manawa is all about.”

Abigail Roache joins the squad off the back of a successful FPC campaign with the Auckland Storm that saw the team place third in the premiership. Also a talented league player, Roache made her Kiwi Ferns debut in 2022 during the Rugby League World Cup against Australia, going on to start in the finals game too. The same season she won the Cathy Friend Women's Player of the Year award for her outstanding performances with the Auckland Rugby League.

Kaua said: “Abi is an athlete whose work ethic matches her talent. She has a huge future in the game of League, Sevens or XV’s - she plays what’s in front, is physical, smart and team first. We think it’s really important we keep reopening the door to players like Abi and having played FPC and Sevens at a young age, she is a massive asset.”

Roache said of her signing: “This opportunity was unexpected but when Muz [Crystal] gave me the call it wasn’t a hard decision. I’m grateful to be heading into an environment with so much experience to help me grow as an athlete. I’m excited for the challenge.“

Roaches Kiwi Ferns teammate Apii Nicholls made her debut in 2017 winning the Female Rugby League Player of the Year award in the same season. She is now a key player for the Gold Coast Titans in the Telstra NRL Womens Premiership, previously playing for the Warriors. Like her fellow Waitomo Chiefs Manawa teammate Charmaine Smith, Nicholls is a Police Officer outside of her rugby career.

Kaua commented: “Apii brings a wealth of experience with the oval ball, taking possession of the fullback jersey for the Kiwi Ferns as well as being a phenomenal Sevens and Tag player. She is an athlete who plays instinctively and is a threat to any defensive line. As a policewoman and mum of two, she is fiercely competitive but with a deep care of people. We know her potential and we know she will add value to our squad on and off the field.”

Nicholls says she is very grateful for her selection: "It’s a privilege and I’m honoured to be a part of such a special event. It's been a while since I’ve been involved with rugby union, but I know there will be a wealth of knowledge and experience within the Waitomo Chiefs Manawa. I’m very lucky to be in that space and I look forward to absorbing it all and having fun."

Counties-Manukau’s Harono Te Iringa played impressively at lock last season to assist the team in taking out the inaugural Sky Super Rugby Aupiki title. This form saw her selected to attend the Black Ferns training camp ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

Kaua said: “Harono brings a brutality and ruthlessness to the field, she was a massive contributor in the 2022 season and we’re excited to have her back with the Waitomo Chiefs Manawa this season. Her 1.83m frame, alongside her game awareness and ability to play what’s in front of her, makes her a fabulous signing for us.”

Harono said of her signing: “I’m super excited to be back with the Waitomo Chiefs Manawa this year! I love this team, love the vibes and looking forward to going to war with my wāhine.”

The Waitomo Chiefs Manawa squad has now begun their pre-season training ahead of Sky Super Rugby Aupiki kick-off on the 25th of February.

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League and Sevens Stars Sign with Waitomo Chiefs Manawa