With the Black Ferns in North America, flanker Marcelle Parkes will step up in place of regular skipper Alana Bremner.
Parkes led Canterbury twice when Bremner was away in 2022, achieving wins over Manawatū (36-19) and Bay of Plenty (33-31). She was genuinely surprised to be approached in the first place.
“I hadn’t captained before, only in netball,” Parkes said.
“I’m a very laid-back person with a chill vibe so I guess my approach is to go with the flow but put my foot down when needed. I’m good at working in groups, collaboration is a strength, so I’ll lean on our leadership team for support when needed.”
Experienced halfback Di Hiini (38 games), winger Martha Mataele (22 games, 21 tries), and winger Emma Dermody (12 games) are the leadership group in a well organised Canterbury team when senior Black Ferns are absent.
Strong support structures and greater challenges are the reason why Parkes left the capital for Christchurch in 2021.
“After Barbarians in 2020, coach Whitney Hansen explained some of the opportunities that existed in Canterbury around skills coaching and resources. I was keen to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself more as a player and person," ” Parkes said.
Parkes has played 15 games for Canterbury and enjoyed 14 wins. In 2022 she was part of the team that thrashed Auckland 41-14 in the final to complete the season undefeated. Additionally, she was part of Super Rugby Aupiki champions Matatū in 2023.
“I would have liked more opportunities, but I put my best foot forward in that campaign and was pleased with my performances,” Parkes said.
“The final was like a movie. It was a crazy game that seesawed. Waiting for the kick at the end was so nerve-wracking. We all expected it to go over and when it didn’t it was just one of those moments.”
A National age group softball and netball representative, Parkes started playing Sevens in the summer of 2015 to keep fit.
On May 22, 2018, the first-ever group of 28 players awarded professional contracts for the Black Ferns was announced. The landmark arrangement included a guaranteed retainer, assembly fees and a range of other benefits. Parkes was one of two Wellington players selected, along with Dhys Faleafaga.
Four days later she made her senior club debut for Marist St Pats against an Oriental-Rongotai side featuring a dozen Wellington Pride representatives. Parkes played centre and scored a try in a 22-36 defeat.
Six months later she was a flanker and made her Test debut in a split series against France. In the 2019 Super Series triumph in San Diego, she featured for 93 minutes in total replacing skipper and role model Les Elder in the matches against Canada and France, then giving an honest account of herself starting opposite the vastly experienced French star Céline Ferer.
Parkes was set to take her place in the August 2019 series against Australia but unfortunately dislocated her shoulder in a club match ruling her out for eight months of surgery and recovery.
She hasn’t been able to regain her international place since but feels like she’s a better player and understands what the selectors are looking for.
“I’ve got to lead with actions and play consistent, physical rugby. You look at the Black Ferns flankers now and their physicality has increased ten-fold. If I can be more dominant on both sides of the ball, I’ll give myself the best chance of getting back in.”
Parkes has been coaching kids extensively in Canterbury and hasn’t lost her connection entirely to Wellington either. This year she played for Marist St Pats helping the Scarlets win the Rebecca Liua'ana and Tia Passi Cup Wellington club titles for the first time. MSP won 10 out of 11 games and scored more points and tries than any club in the capital.
“That meant everything. I started my rugby journey there eight years ago and it’s taken eight years to win that championship.”
“When Ryan Setefano started the team most of the girls were in school and we were being smashed by some big scorelines. It’s special that the girls kept returning and growing into a competitive side.
“Drenna Falaniko, Maddie Feaunati, Tamara Ruaporo, Monica Tagoai; those girls are amazing and might be in the Wellington team. We expect a tough game against them and everyone. We’ve got a target on our backs as defending champs, and you look at the Black Ferns spread around the squads and the FPC is going to be epic.”
Wellington were semi-finalists last year. Canterbury v Wellington kicks off at Rugby Park, Christchurch at 12:05 pm and is broadcast live and exclusively on Sky Sport.