Dual rugby and league international, now Black Ferns hooker, Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate is forging her own path in the black jersey and helping to blaze a trail for rugby-loving girls in Northland.
The Black Ferns take on Australia in the first match of their two-test series in Perth on Saturday night as part of the double header with the All Blacks and Wallabies.
For Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate, it marks the beginning of her journey out from the shadow of former captain and front rower Fiao’o Fa’amausili.
A dab hand on the six string, Ngata-Aerengamate leads the kapa haka and waiata for the Black Ferns.
“I love getting out the guitar and I really enjoy that part. It connects me to my culture and relaxes me and it’s my stress relief. The girls all feel the same which is cool, we love getting together for a waiata.”
Aotearoa, often sung after victory, is her favourite to belt out.
“It just talks about all these tribes and where people are from, but coming together as one. It says we come from all over Aotearoa but we can come together over common bonds and unite and become something great,” she says.
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Black Ferns coach Glen Moore said West Auckland’s Ngata-Aerengemate, of Cook Island Māori and Ngāti Porou descent, has a unique wairua and magnetism.
“She’s a very big part of the culture and the fabric here,” he says.
“She doesn’t scream and yell, but she has a very musical background and is a confident speaker and she has the ability to bring people together with that.”
And she’s not just part of the Black Ferns lifeblood, with the Kaitaia College teacher working tirelessly to make rugby accessible for teenage girls in Northland.
“She takes all that stuff very seriously. She’s a great person and I’m not surprised to be seeing her doing that sort of work. She’s very passionate about it and deeply cares,” Moore says.
Kaitaia College sports co-ordinator Janita Brown said Ngata-Aerengamate’s mana has attracted unprecedented numbers of girls to the sport.
“She speaks Te Reo, loves music and jams with the kids, as well as having that passion for rugby,” Brown says.
“She relates to quite a few kids in our school and the kids love her, they absolutely love her. She has actually got a lot of kids leaving their normal sports or hobbies to go and try rugby and kids that have never, ever even played sport, jumping into rugby. She’s even got me thinking about it!”
Ngata-Aerengemate, 27, says there are plenty of challenges to providing regular rugby to the kids of the Far North, such as the geographical spread of the students, meaning she has to run training’s at lunchtime.
However, those challenges come with equal rewards.
“Just the enjoyment of seeing students accomplish something. You can see it in their faces, they don’t even need to say anything.
“It’s just so beautiful to see, it makes me a bit teary eyed actually just to see how passionate they are.”
She believes playing rugby can help the kotiro (girls) connect with their culture.
“Tikanga Māori, that’s something that’s really strong and important for Northland, and the girls immerse in karakia before our matches and waiata and learn how to act in those cultural settings.”
Knowing how to act, or when to be serious and when to not, make Ngata-Aerengemate a desirable teammate and an opponent to fear.
“Everyone enjoys my humour in the team and knowing how to be off the field, to have a joke and all that, but on field to switch that into warrior or monster mode.”
The Black Ferns will be hoping to see that monster mode against Australia, as they seek to maintain their trans-Tasman dominance.