The Hawke’s Bay Tui halfback produced a star turn in the opening round of the Farah Palmer Cup when the Tui upset Auckland 32-31.
In just her sixth appearance the 19-year-old scored a try and made several incisive breaks as the 2022 Championship winners stunned their Premiership rivals.
It was the first time since 2006, when Hawke’s Bay broke Auckland’s 71-match winning streak, that Hawke’s Bay had suppressed the Storm.
“The girls turned up for each other on that day. We knew it was going to be hard, but we also knew it was our opportunity to step up a notch and get the win we needed,” Awa said.
“Auckland didn’t have their Black Ferns, but we were determined to show we aren’t here to make up the numbers.
“I love a fast game of rugby, that’s one that suits our strongest players. We managed to get a few penalties for offside.
"I think that’s a credit to our fitness. We’ve been training for weeks. Our club competition only had five teams and a single round which left us with a lot of spare time to train.
“We didn’t settle at halftime. We went hard the whole 80. That was the best thing about it.”
The effort of the Tui might have been in vain had Sophie Fisher kicked a 77th-minute penalty. Hawke’s Bay were nervy finishers.
“I actually collected that ball and to be honest I was under pressure. I didn’t know what to do, two minutes is a lot of time. Do I run it and we do pods to try to close it out? Do I kick it as far as I can? When we kicked it, it didn’t go out. It was a big learning.”
Awa is a quick learner. Her parents are former New Zealand age group basketballer Shontelle Wainohu and Duane Awa, who played more than 100 premier games as a front rower for MAC.
In 2016 Kahlia, alongside her twin brothers Ezekiel and Zedekiah, competed in the Ross Shield for Hastings West.
It was the first time in the 114-year history of the prestigious Hawke's Bay Primary Schools tournament that two brothers and one sister from the same family have turned out in the same team at the event.
A year later Kahlia became the first female to captain a Ross Shield-winning team. Her coach Anthony Easson told Te Ao News at the time.
“For me Kahlia's kind of a bit like Richie McCaw to be honest she's a real leader on the field, mainly due to her actions she never gives up she's a real hard rugby player she loves getting in there and taking on the boys but it's also the off-field stuff as well.”
Netball would be the primary focus for Kahlia at Hastings Girls’ High School. The talented midcourter was good enough to make the New Zealand Secondary Schools team and earned trails with the Central Manawa, who are the feeder side for the Central Pulse franchise.
Rugby always lingered in the background though, especially with former Black Ferns World Cup winning halfback Emma Jensen deputy principal at Hastings Girls.’
Awa played in the First XV beside 2021 Black Ferns World Cup winner Liana Mikaele-Tu'u and appeared five times for the Tui as an understudy to Jensen last year.
She migrated to Wellington in late 2022 to further her netball ambitions but when a chance to feature in Super Rugby Aupiki for the Hurricanes Poua arose, rugby won the day.
“Overload, burnout, it became too much to manage both,” Awa admitted.
"With netball, I haven't necessarily played with women, just girls my age. So, rugby has helped me become five years older than what I actually am and having to mature.
Hawke’s Bay will have to be at its mature best to conquer top-of-the-table Waikato this weekend. Waikato upset reigning champions Canterbury on Saturday and have a bundle of Black Ferns returning.
“We’ll have a crack. We’re growing every day. I feel like we have the game to surprise a few,” Awa warned.