Whanganui girls loving Manawatu Cyclones run in Farah Palmer Cup

By Jared Smith

In their gap week for the Farah Palmer Cup, the Manawatu Cyclones and their contingent of St Johns Wanganui Metro players can take stock of what is proving a breakout season.

For a revised 2020 competition due to Covid-19, the Cyclones were placed into the ironically named ‘South’ division, where the three lower North Island unions (Wellington, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu) share long inter-island travel duties with the three actual South Island sides (Tasman, Canterbury, Otago).

The ‘North’ division consists of the seven women’s teams from Northland down to Taranaki which correspond with their Mitre 10 Cup men, as Southland is the only union not to have a Farah Palmer Cup side.

The Cyclones squad includes WRFU development officer and former Black Fern Sosoli Talawadua, and her young Metro club-mates Lavenia Nauga-Grey and Montel Vaiao Aki.

After a 36-10 loss in Palmerston North to 2019’s Premiership winners Canterbury, who have remained unbeaten, Manawatu have rattled off three straight bonus point wins to sit second on the South table and in the semifinal-qualifying position with just their derby against the Hawke’s Bay Tui (1-3) remaining in the round robin.

Tasman were routed 88-0 in Palmerston North, with Talawadua getting two tries, before the decisive game saw Manawatu upset 2019 semifinalists the Wellington Pride 31-28 at Sky Stadium in front of a Prime Time TV audience.

The roll continued down at Forsyth Bars Stadium in Dunedin on Sunday, with a gritty 28-14 win over the Otago Spirit.

The Cyclones are now on a break weekend while the North division plays their extra round.

“We still have to win the following weekend, so don’t want to look too far ahead,” said Talawadua.

Sosoli Talawadua

“It was an ugly game at the weekend, but we went down there, and won with the bonus point.

“Otago, they did their study on our team. We had two 5.30am travel days.

“We’ve got some young girls, and just travelling for game day, staying in a hotel, then playing in a large stadium – it was even the first time I’d been in Forsyth Barr.

“All of those [factors] play a little part of it.”

But Talawadua was most proud of the effort against Wellington, who had beaten then 42-26 the year before, when the Cyclones were up 26-7 at halftime but got blown away in the second stanza.

“We were pretty good against Canterbury, even though we lost, we still took positives from that.

“By the time we were in that Wellington game, we were ready.

“People didn’t think we would win, but afterwards, seeing the public comments, the congratulations…being on Sky so family could watch it.

“Every other game is being live-streamed on Facebook.”

The game was also the first-class debut for Nauga-Grey, who came on for the last 22 minutes as her side had just gone behind 28-23.

“That was so good, she played so well,” said Talawadua.

“She scrummed like she had scrummed all season. She brought the energy.

“That was like a semifinal for us, and she came on and added urgency.”

It’s a straight forward bus trip to Napier’s McLean Park for the last pool game with the Tui on October 16, but the Cyclones are putting in added preparations with an 80-minute training run this coming Saturday to go with their usual Tuesday-Thursday sessions.

“It will be like game day fitness, so we’re humming next week,” said Talawadua.

On the local scene, practice sessions have started for a Wanganui Women’s team to play the representative curtain-raiser to the Steelform Wanganui vs Wairarapa Bush game at Cooks Gardens next Saturday.

The majority of the side will be Metro squad members, but Talawadua said they have contacted some of the oldest players from the local schools to take part.