Some may argue it's a huge call but Hawke's Bay Tuis rugby coach Terangi Maeva has every right to label Niamph Jefferson a future Black Fern.
A Taikura Rudolf Steiner School year 13 student Jefferson, 18, is continuing to enhance her repertoire of skills which first earnt her Tuis selection in 2013 when she had a five-minute stint on the wing. This season she has made the switch from the midfield to flanker with aplomb.
It's almost as if she has been a flanker since her 12th grade days in the Taradale JAB system.
"I really enjoy the physicality of the loosie's role and the fact there is more defence. I might have to eat a bit more so I can get as strong as some of my opponents ... it's not about putting on more weight but building more strength," Jefferson explained on the eve of the Tuis Farah Palmer Cup Championship third round match against the Otago Spirit at Napier's Park Island today.
Although the Tuis are winless after losses to Wellington and Bay of Plenty Jefferson believed they are improving all the time.
"Hopefully we will get a win at the end of the season. I'm confident we will get one against Bay of Plenty if we meet again in the playoffs."
Jefferson agreed with Maeva that the Tuis were flat at the start of their 24-10 loss to Bay of Plenty last week.
"We're coming together more as a team now. We're training hard and getting our heads more focused."
"Otago are a good team with a win and a loss. But we're at home again and looking to have a better game than last week."
A member of the Clive team which won the Hawke's Bay club title this season and a multiple winner of the Hawke's Bay Secondary Schoolgirls title with Karamu High School before Hasting Girls' High School won it this season, Jefferson, regularly lists All Black Sevens women's captain and Black Ferns loosie Sarah Goss as her idol.
"I hope this proves to be a lucky omen as I want to follow a similar path to her," Jefferson said.
She will get an accurate gauge as to where she sits on the national scene when she, along with several other Bay players, attend the New Zealand under-18 sevens team trials next month.
"I intend to have a gap year next year so I can focus on my rugby and I don't mind whether that is still here in the Bay or overseas. It's exciting times to be involved with rugby now with the Black Ferns world champions and the sevens girls Olympic silver medallists. They're getting more media coverage now which is great too."
A Westshore Surf Lifesaving Club lifeguard, Jefferson, said she doesn't get down to the club as often as she used to because of her rugby commitments but she said her surf lifesaving pursuits have definitely assisted with her aerobic base for rugby. With the likes of Tuis captain Amy Williams, who was a world champion Black Fern, and former Aotearoa Maori Sevens rep Julie Ferguson-Ngawaka, who will start on the wing for the Tuis today, Jefferson won't be short of role models as she continues her quest to back up Maeva's prediction.
Ferguson-Ngawaka's daughter Teilah Ferguson is on the Tuis subs bench and it will be interesting to see if the pair get game time together today. This will be the only game at Park Island today as the Hawke's Bay Saracens are in Wellington for their Hurricanes Development comp clash against Wellington Maori, the Hawke's Bay under-19s are playing their final game at the Taupo-hosted nationals, and both under-16 teams and the under-14s are in Palmerston North.
Teams for the 11am match:
Hawke's Bay Tuis: Felicity Powdrell, Danielle Pomare-Mackay, Shaylee Tipiwai, Renee Holmes, Julie Ferguson-Ngawaka, Amy Williams (captain), Gemma Woods, Awhina Tangen-Wainohu, Niamh Jefferson, Luana Apuwai, Rebekah Hurae, Kristen Kirkpatrick, Yarnisae Whaitiri, Forne Burkin, Jessica Bennett. Substitutes, forwards: Natalie Cotton, Christine Lauvao, Laurae Blake, Hope Hakopa. Backs: Teilah Ferguson, Natasha Greville.
Otago Spirit: Cheyenne Cunningham, Kiana Wereta, Greer Muir, Kilistina Moataane, Catarina Antunes, Sheree Hume, Zoe Whatarau, Angie Sisifa, Gerogia Mason, Morgan Henderson, Annemieke van Vliet, Jess Kendall, Syretta Norris, Tegan Hollows, Ellis Doyle. Substitutes, forwards: Gemma Miller, Isla Pringle, Kate Smith, Sarah Crabbe. Backs: Leyhana Van Vugt, Soraya Umaga-Jensen, Sam Hollows.