In Whanganui, Selica Winiata made her debut for the Manawatū Cyclones. She was 14 years old.
“The only thing I remember was the sheep poo on the field,” Winiata laughed.
“We played in a paddock, a lumpy field with a pair of posts. I was halfback and we won.
“It was pretty daunting to debut at such a young age against such big girls, but I guess I haven’t gotten any bigger.
“My superpower on the field is speed and elusiveness. If I can evade defenders, I can make an impact,” Winiata said.
On Saturday Winiata will become the first Manawatū women’s centurion when she makes her 100th appearance in the sixth round of the Farah Palmer Cup presented by Bunnings Warehouse (FPC) Championship against Otago in Dunedin.
Manawatū are unbeaten in four matches and have scored an impressive 221 points in 2023. Winiata has contributed a competition-leading 55 points.
“Am I happy? No,” Winiata said.
“We’re getting the results we’re after, but we’ve set high standards. It’s frustrating we're leaving a lot out on the field. We’re building each week but the potential for improvement is massive.”
There is no pause for sentimental reflection on her century. It’s this selflessness and drive that separates Winiata from many of her peers. The next most capped player in recent Manawatū teams is Janna Vaughan who had 57 appearances at the end of 2022. Former Black Ferns halfback Kristina Sue played 58 times.
Winiata, affectionally known as ‘Shorty,’ has been a world-class fullback for two decades. The first New Zealand woman to score 100 first-class tries, scored 39 tries in a stellar Black Ferns career of 40 Tests (2008-2020). She won a World Cup in 2017, scoring twice in the final against England. A year earlier she was named New Zealand Women’s Player of the Year. Before her international legend was secured, she had many moments to savour with the Cyclones.
“In 2005 we won a promotion/regulation series that involved Canterbury and Auckland B. We beat Canterbury in the semi and Auckland in the final to take out the title,” Winiata recalled.
“When people say I’ve never beaten Auckland, I remind them of that match. They stacked their team. Anna Richards is still filthy about it.
“In 2006 we had a 0-0 draw against Canterbury. It wasn’t exhilarating for the spectators but for us, little old Manawatū, it was a monumental result.
“In 2012 I managed to get four tries in a game against Waikato and Wellington. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t feel good. It’s great I’ve scored a lot of tries but I don’t think that tells you a lot about a player. There’s so much that goes into the build-up of a try.”
Women’s rugby has been building steadily. All FPC matches are broadcast on Sky TV, contrasting to when Winiata started playing.
“The biggest change I’ve observed is the support and coverage the game gets now. When I started playing you went from club to FPC to Black Ferns, a massive jump. Now there are more steppingstones with stronger schools and age group rugby,” Winiata said.
“Fulltime contracting of Black Ferns has improved skill and fitness massively. It makes the game more exciting. I’m impressed by Renee Holmes. I wish I’d had the time to perfect the craft like she has.
“It’s wonderful that younger players have more ambition, opportunity, and knowledge, but you’ve got to have a Plan B. Rugby can be a cruel game. Your only an injury away from it being all over.”
Winiata is a fulltime policewoman dealing with deaths and major car crashes to drunk drivers, assaults, and shoplifting. It’s a demanding profession with some similarities to rugby.
“You’ve always got to be on your guard, don’t become complacent in your position or let the reputation you’ve built over the years decline. If you let your guard down others will take opportunities.
“I love my job; every day is different. I love being in the community and helping people in need.”
Winiata is helping Manawatū build a more diverse and inclusive culture. In 2021 they won the Championship only to be regulated from the Premiership last year. When Winiata has run onto the field this season she’s been carrying a very conspicuous taonga presented by former coach Fusi Feaunati.
“That’s our tewhatewha which is a long-handled Māori club weapon shaped like an axe. It was made by a master carver with a good understanding of who we are and want to be as people. It signifies our unity and willingness to battle. It’s our mauri. We all touch it before kick-off,” Winiata explained.
“It hasn’t always been easy to get it through customs. There are kārearea * feathers on top of it donated by Doc. It goes everywhere with us and will be coming to Dunedin on Saturday.”
*In Māori legend It was believed that the bird would fly to the missing wife or husband and land on their head. Unable to resist the spell, they would return home. The kārearea (falcon) was also used to bring back a straying partner by dropping a feather on their head.
Selica Winiata Manawatū Records
Most Appearances: 99
Most Points: 598
Most Tries: 77
Most Tries in a Season: 14, 2012
Most Points in a Match: 38 v Waikato, 2012
Most Tries in a Match: 4 v Waikato (63-25) & Wellington (43-31), 2012
Note: She started playing for Kia Toa club in 2001 aged 14 and won 15 Prue Christie titles, in 2001, 2003-05, 2007, 2009-12, 2014, 2017, 2019-21, and 2023. Records of her club caps haven't been kept. Her younger sister Kylie played five games as a halfback for Manawatu from 2009-12. Her success hasn’t been confined exclusively to the 15-aside code. For eight years she was a member of the Black Ferns Sevens appearing in 15 tournaments and scoring 32 tries. She won a World Cup in 2013 and two World Sevens Series titles. Winiata was a member of five Manawatu teams to capture the National Sevens title. The two tries she scored against Auckland in the 2013 National Sevens final Queenstown are among her personal favourites. Another highlight in Sevens was winning the Hong Kong Sevens four times and the Roma Sevens three times with the Aotearoa Maori Sevens team. She has also refereed first-class rugby and Sevens internationally, including the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
100 Games for One Province
Stephanie Te Ohaere-Fox (Canterbury), 2004-2022 - 113
Fiao’o Fa’amausili (Auckland), 1998-2018 – 106
Kendra Cocksedge (Canterbury), 2007-2022 – 100
Note: A dozen players have a century of first-class appearances with Emma Jensen (1999-2022) holding the record for most first-class appearances with 190.
Century of Appearances for Manawatū
Garry Knight, 145*
Ken Granger, 128*
Geoff Old, 117*
Murray Rosenbrook, 111
Mark Donaldson, 110*
Bruce Hemara, 108*
Perry Harris, 108*
Kevin Eveleigh, 107*
Nick Crosswell, 104
Don McCaskie, 101
Note: *Denotes All Black. Deryck Rowse played 97 matches for Manawatū and 13 for Manawatū-Horowhenua and Central Vikings and counts as a centurion too. Manawatū was founded in 1886 and was an original member of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union in 1982. The Manawatū women have competed in every official NPC/FPC since 1999.
Manawatū v Otago: Saturday 19 August, 2.05pm, University of Otago Oval. Live on Sky Sport NZ.