It would be the perfect ending to a remarkable 18-year career if Black Fern Steph Te Ohaere-Fox wins back the Farah Palmer Cup for Canterbury this weekend – in a stadium bearing her name with great mate and fellow centurion Kendra Cocksedge.

Countless times over the past 15 years, Steph Te Ohaere-Fox and Kendra Cocksedge have run out onto Rugby Park together, decked out in the red and black hoops.

They’ve led the team together, made key decisions together; they’ve won a string of national premiership titles and helped each other through many long, cold nights at Canterbury trainings.

Tomorrow the long-time mates and Canterbury centurions will run out side-by-side for the final time, playing the Farah Palmer Cup final at Te Ohaere-Fox Cocksedge Stadium (aka Rugby Park).

But they’re thinking one day they could return – coaching the team together.

Although the spotlight this week has been on crackerjack halfback Cocksedge as she plays her 100th and last game for Canterbury in the grand final against Auckland, steadfast prop and former captain Te Ohaere-Fox will have a slight upperhand on her old friend.

“When they named the stadium after us, someone said to me: ‘Ooh your name’s first – you’ve got one up on her’,” Te Ohaere-Fox, playing her 113th game for Canterbury, laughs.

“The name’s a bit of mouthful, but it’s a pretty special moment for us both. Rugby Park has always been our home; we’ve played about 90 of our games here.

“Canterbury have looked after us through the years, and it’s a big honour for them to even think about doing this for us.”

Win or lose, it will be an emotional send-off for the pair who’ve shared so much of their provincial rugby careers.

Kendra Cocksedge and Steph Te Ohaere-Fox celebrate Canterbury winning the FPC final from Counties Manukau in 2018. Photo: Getty Images.

During the week, Te Ohaere-Fox, who won the 2010 World Cup in her 24-test Black Ferns career, was posed a question by Cocksedge, the most capped Black Fern in history.

“Kendra messaged me and said: ‘Do you reckon any other province has great mates who’ve played together for this long and got their 100s together?’ I doubt there is,” says Te Ohaere-Fox, the first Canterbury woman to reach the milestone.

“All the years I captained, she was my right-hand man. Her knowledge of the game is exceptional. I’ve definitely learned a lot from her around rules and decisions. We’ve worked together well, and we could always be honest with each other.”

Cocksedge says the pair are setting a precedent: “You’ve got to play 100 games for Canterbury before you retire, then you get a park named after you for a week.”

They’ll continue to bump into each other through their work: Cocksedge as women’s rugby participation manager for NZ Rugby, and Te Ohaere-Fox in her new job as rugby development manager for the Christchurch Rugby Club (she’s in her third week, having put down her tools as a builder).

And the pair may one day lead the Canterbury team again – but this time as coaches.

“We’ve been talking about doing coaching courses together. I said to her, ‘How awesome would it be if we coached the team together?’ And she was like ‘That would be mean as!’” Te Ohaere-Fox says.

“That’s something to look out for in the future, anyway.”

Steph Te Ohaere-Fox (centre) and Kendra Cocksedge (right) received their Black Ferns caps together. 

Te Ohaere-Fox will have a significant – and unmissable – support crew in the grandstand tomorrow.

“My sister is making champions shirts with my 113 caps on it – and probably my face on it – for all my whānau to wear,” the tighthead prop says.

She gave a ticket for the match to her dad, Māori All Black Lester Fox, for Father’s Day. Te Ohaere-Fox’s wife, Andrea, and their two children – six-year-old son, Manahau, and two-year-old daughter, Anatia – will be there too.

“I don’t know how much rugby my kids actually watch – they’re usually off at the bouncy castle. But you get a ‘Go Mama’ every now and then,” she laughs.

And Te Ohaere-Fox is determined to be upbeat whether or not her team reclaim the Farah Palmer Cup trophy they relinquished to Waikato last year.

“We’ll be doing everything we can to win, but if we don’t, I won’t let one loss define my career. I’ll take all the positives from my career and it will be celebrated, no matter what.”

After first playing for Canterbury in 2004, Thames-born Te Ohaere-Fox became an inspiring leader, captaining her adopted province to three FPC premiership titles. She missed the 2020 season, pregnant with Anatia, but returned to the field last year.

“Coming back from a baby was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she admits.

But this season has been one of the “most fun” in her incredible era, which helped her make the decision to retire from provincial rugby 18 years after her first game.

“I was captain for a few years and there wasn’t heaps of pressure, but I was leading the team,” she says. “Whereas now I’m still part of the leadership team but I can just go out and play my rugby and enjoy it.

“We have some other great props in the side – Amy Rule is playing some amazing rugby for the Black Ferns – and so I didn’t even know if I’d make the Canterbury bench. And I changed my mindset around starting and I quite like being on the bench now, having that cool, calm head towards the end of the game. 

“I love chucking the ball around, love being physical and I enjoy a scrum.”

Last weekend Te Ohaere-Fox got to do all that from the first minute of the semifinal against the Wellington Pride, playing in the starting XV. She scored an important try just after halftime that opened the floodgates in their eventual 31-3 victory.

“I just want to go out while I’m still playing good – not get kicked out,” she says. “I’ll probably still pull on my boots for my club team. I still love rugby, it’s still my passion and I can still chip away at it.”

Much like her job as a builder. After Anatia was born, Te Ohaere-Fox decided she wanted to find an occupation that was more “whānau orientated”.

“After I played the Matatū season, I thought about what I wanted to do, and wife said ‘Why don’t you do rugby? You love it, you’re passionate about it’. And then this job as regional development manager at my rugby club was advertised.

“It’s a club I’ve played nearly 200 games for. Hopefully I’ll grow in this role and do good for my club.”

Steph Te Ohaere-Fox holds the Canterbury club premiership trophy with her Christchurch Rugby Club team-mates.

There are things she’ll miss about the tradie life. “Building kept my strength and power up. It was the best thing to happen for my rugby career. But it was hard to juggle both,” she says.

“In summer, I’ll miss getting the tan.” But she knows she’ll be called on to build friends’ decks.

Te Ohaere-Fox, who’s played every position in the front row, hopes her legacy in the Canterbury side will be the “chilled-out calmness and good energy” she’s brought to the team, and her nurturing of young props coming through.

“One thing we always talk about is ‘leaving the jersey in a better place’,” she says. “We have a lot of good props coming through, so I’m happy to have given back and shared my knowledge with them.”

“The final will come down to who plays the best rugby on the day.”

In her later years with Canterbury, the team have had a new theme for each season. Last year was Hercules, the year before Harry Potter. Te Ohaere-Fox’s favourite was The Lion King in 2019. (This season’s theme remains a secret until late Saturday afternoon.)

“We get new goals each week around our theme and everyone buys into it – the coaches and management do amazing work to make it come alive, and the girls live it every week,” she says. “If people had an insight into how hard-out our theme gets each year, it would be pretty jaw-dropping.”

Within this year’s theme has been the ambition to get their hands on the trophy again, after losing it to Waikato in last year’s final, 22-20. Although Te Ohaere-Fox scored a try in the final minutes, the Cantabrians ran out of time to save it. 

But Waikato’s run this season was stopped short by Auckland in the semifinal, 26-21 – which goes to show, Te Ohaere-Fox says, how close the FPC has become.

“Every time we went into a game this season, we had to work hard for the win. There used to be big blowouts, but now every team is tough,” she says. “The final will come down to who plays the best rugby on the day.”

With a Black Ferns and Barbarians career spanning seven years, Te Ohaere-Fox hopes to be in the crowd at as many World Cup games as she can next month, and see Cocksedge play her last internationals.

Te Ohaere-Fox jokes she’ll be keeping up her fitness just in case she gets a recall, as she did in 2011 – living in London, playing for Wasps, she was urgently invited into the Black Ferns as injury cover on their English tour.

And she was, after all, called up to play in the Black Ferns trial game in July.

“I was just happy to help them out after a couple of props pulled out at the last minute and [assistant coach] Whitney Hansen said, ‘Are you around this weekend?’” Te Ohaere-Fox laughs.

“I surprised myself in keeping up, and thought ‘Maybe I could still do it’. But I’ll enjoy watching them from the crowd. It’s such an exciting brand of rugby they’re playing now.”

* In the Farah Palmer Cup Championship final, Otago meet Hawke’s Bay on Saturday, 12.30pm, before the Premiership final, Canterbury vs Auckland, at 3pm; both games live on Sky Sport 2.

Suzanne McFadden, the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Sports Journalist of the Year, founded LockerRoom, dedicated to women's sport.

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