By Shane Hurndell
Julie Ferguson struggles to believe she is returning to the sevens scene today.
"Tom got me at a weak moment. I'll be there for my head ... not my legs," former New Zealand sevens representative Ferguson quipped as she pondered the Hawke's Bay women's team's campaign at the Central Zone qualifier in Palmerston North.
The mother-of-two, 35, was referring to Bay coach Tom Blake, who has enticed her to play again after a two-year spell. Ferguson took the break from sevens as well as 15-a-side rugby to give the Ironmaori half ironman a crack. Last year she finished the event in 6h 40m and this month in 6h 27m.
"I'll definitely have the endurance base for sevens, but sprinting is going to be a problem. I might end up having to pass more and try and back up," Ferguson said.
The 2010 Aotearoa Sevens captain and 2009 New Zealand Sevens World Cup representative will start in either the halfback or pivot role depending on circumstances.
Like Blake, Ferguson is confident Hawke's Bay can achieve their goal of a top-two finish in the four-team women's segment of the tournament and qualify for the January 12-13 Queenstown nationals.
"We've got the goods ... We've got a good mix of experience, speed and enthusiasm," Ferguson explained.
When asked if there was a chance she would be making a permanent return to sevens with the Rio Olympics as a goal, Ferguson replied:
"We'll just take it one tournament at a time. I have to balance things with the rest of my life."
The Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga smoking-cessation specialist agreed Manawatu would start as favourites today.
"They've got a couple of players who have been in the Aotearoa side. You look at the female sevens stars who are shining at the moment and most of them have been in the Aotearoa side.
"Peter Joseph, the Aotearoa coach, has done an awesome job over the years with his players," Ferguson said.
Blake is thrilled to have her services. He said the likes of Ferguson, Cook Islands squad member Te Maari MacGregor, and fellow experienced hands Amy Williams and Candis Cardie had blended in well with youngsters including Karamu High School's Maia Wati-Cooper and Napier Girls' High School's Stacey Loye.
"If we stick our style of play we will be fine. Our girls are keen and up for it," Blake said.
"Us and Taranaki will be the dark horses," he added.
All of Hawke's Bay's games are live on the Rugby Channel. They are: 11.20am v Wellington; 1pm v Taranaki; 2.20pm v Manawatu; 5pm final.
Hawke's Bay squad, forwards: Amy Williams, Stacey Loye, Laurae Blake, Celeste Lowe, Te Maari MacGregor (co-captain), Nina Pineaha-Hyslop.
Backs: Julie Ferguson, Krysten Duffill (co-captain), Shaylee Tipiwai, Candis Cardie, Rhiarna Ferris, Maia Wati-Cooper.