“I’m actually old to be making my debut,” says new Black Fern Krystal Murray. But she’s already been to the top of another sport and is setting rugby in the north alight.
Krystal Murray may have taken a slight detour in her rugby career. But the proud Northlander has finally made it to her “dream” destination of the Black Ferns.
It doesn’t bother the 28-year-old that it comes a little later than originally planned. She’s just appreciative of the opportunity in front of her now.
And ‘Muzza’, as she’s more commonly known, puts her selection down to the revival of women’s rugby in the Far North – driven by none other than a few friends and local Black Ferns.
Aroha Savage, Rawinia Everitt, and Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate “have pretty much started a movement up here for us women.” They’ve sparked a fire in Murray and others in the region to play for more than themselves.
“They’ve just moved mountains for our people and we’ve got to give them a lot of credit,” says Murray. “If it wasn’t for them starting our local rugby, we wouldn’t even have people to play for Northland.
“We’ve been inspired by these ladies who have come home and contributed to our community. It’s awesome.”
Before the Black Ferns trio moved back up North, there was not much to do, says Murray.
“It’s so important that people realise if the groundwork needs to be done, we need people to do it so that there are more opportunities for our ladies to come through. Because there is so much talent in these rural bushes,” Murray laughs.
Being named in the Black Ferns squad for the first time was “exciting” for the No. 8 turned prop.
“It’s such an honour and privilege to play for this team. It’s been a dream of mine since I was little so it’s awesome that it’s finally here. I’ve worked hard to get here,” says Murray.
It’s not the only sport Murray has worked hard at to reach the top. She’s already represented New Zealand in the 13-women-code at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup – playing against her partner, Ngata-Aerengamate, who made the Cook Islands team.
But the Northland Kauri captain wants to add to the honour, and is aiming to be part of the Rugby World Cup squad next year, when the ninth edition of the pinnacle rugby tournament kicks-off in New Zealand in October.
“That’s pretty much where my sights are set,” Murray says. “And just to play my best. I haven’t given my best at this level so it’s a good challenge to play to my full potential. That’s probably one of the biggest things for me.”
Spectators will probably be wanting to see how much more Murray can give on the field, given her outstanding form over the past couple of seasons – and her statistics this year. She’s the leading try scorer in the Farah Palmer Cup, Northland’s top women’s point scorer, is their goal kicker, and is a front rower who can run like a back.
It’s no doubt that type of range and consistency saw Murray get the nod, over the phone, from Black Ferns head coach Glenn Moore, earlier this week.
Murray was nervous throughout the day, trying to keep herself busy with the lawns and weeding, but she admits there was something else on her mind when the phone call came through.
“I was thinking ‘I hope my phone doesn’t cut out of reception’,” she laughs. “I live quite rurally and there’s not much service around, so I was just hoping and praying that it wouldn’t cut out.”
She wasn’t the only one nervously waiting in her household for team news. Ngata-Aerengamate, who already has 30 tests for the Black Ferns, was right beside Murray.
“We were just trying to keep each other really calm I guess,” she says. “We were just hoping both of us would make the team so we can go and play in that black jersey together.”
The pair will be able to tick that goal off their list. Although Murray has travelled overseas before with sport, this time she’s looking forward to the overall experience.
“I just want to go play some good footy and represent New Zealand well,” says Murray. “And just represent my people in the far North and try to inspire people all over New Zealand.”
With the defending Rugby World Cup champions not playing any tests for two years, their upcoming four-match Northern Tour against England and France will be a good benchmark to see where Murray and the relatively young side stack up on the international stage.
The Black Ferns will head away next month, but the FPC is set to recommence next weekend. Whether the named Black Ferns will play out the remainder of the season, before they leave, is yet to be confirmed.
Even though Murray is one of 12 debutants, she is also one of the more mature team members. For that reason, she brings a unique perspective to the squad.
“I was thinking I am actually old to be making my debut but at the end of the day, my pathway has been different to others. We’re all here to contribute to the jersey and knowing what I can bring, only I can bring,” Murray says.
She’s been through “some hard struggles” and been under a lot of pressure in her life, so is able to offer support to those who may need help in managing difficult situations.
The youngest of six children switched between codes growing up in Kaitaia but decided to focus on rugby when the Northland Kauri made their debut in the 2019 FPC competition.
Murray says they received a lot of support from other provinces to form a Northland women’s team so she was able to stay home to play sport for the first time in her career.
Being able to stay locally has contributed to Murray’s solid performances.
“I 100 percent feel that being here, in my hometown, and having the support of my family and my community, has helped me get to where I am today with making the Black Ferns,” she says. “Because I feel like I’ve got a lot more to play for.”
When she was playing league, Murray’s dad would drive her to Auckland every weekend to play for the Papakura Sea Eagles. The lengthy four-and-a-half hour commute (one way) was worth it when she made the Kiwi Ferns. “There was no rugby or league up here in Kaitaia so I had to travel.”
But accessing the game of rugby in Northland meant Murray’s pathway to the Black Ferns has helped “prove that we don’t have to leave to make it.”
*Black Ferns End of Year Tests
Weekend of October 30/31
Black Ferns v England
Weekend of November 6/7
Black Ferns v England
Saturday November 13
Black Ferns v France
3pm, Stade du Hameau, Pau
Saturday November 20
Black Ferns v France
3pm, Stade Pierre-Fabre, Castres
*Venues, dates and kick off times for England fixtures yet to be confirmed
New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia are still investigating the possibility of an O’Reilly Cup fixture before the Northern Tour, after the original series in New Zealand was cancelled.