Herald Future Stars: Nathan-Wong blazes rugby trail

By Terry Maddaford

Ambitious and talented Herald Future Stars winner is first from sevens, tag or touch to take award.

Tyla Nathan-Wong has shown great skill with the oval ball. Photo / APN
Tyla Nathan-Wong has shown great skill with the oval ball. Photo / APN

Tyla Nathan-Wong joins a growing list of rising sporting stars to be recognised as a New Zealand Herald Future Star and, at the same time, breaks new ground as the first from her sport to be honoured.

The Future Stars awards have acknowledged talent in a huge variety of sports since 1968, but Nathan-Wong is the first from, take your pick, rugby sevens, tag or touch to win one.

She is joined by Paralympian swimmer Mary Fisher, rising league star Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, rower Cameron Webster, future Black Sticks hockey player George Muir and cyclist Sophie Williamson as the six Future Stars for this year.

The judges, New Zealand Olympic Committee president Mike Stanley, two-time Olympian Alison Fitch, Herald sports editor Chris Allen and writer Terry Maddaford, were again encouraged by the calibre of the nominations in a year when there was no standout but many who had already performed with distinction internationally.

Nathan-Wong, 18, has already played at Touch and Tag World Cups and has her sights set on a triple by gaining selection in the New Zealand team for this year's IRB World Cup Sevens in Russia and beyond that next year's Women's Rugby World Cup in France.

Fisher, who turned 20 in January, was one of the stars of the New Zealand team at the London Paralympic Games.

From five events, Fisher, who swims for the Capital Swim Club in Wellington and for 10 years set her sights on the pinnacle of her sport, won gold in the 200m individual medley, setting a world and Paralympic record of 2m 46.91s.

She backed that golden swim with silver in the 100m freestyle and 100m backstroke, bronze in the 50m freestyle, fourth in the 400m freestyle and a world record for the 50m butterfly en route to her medley victory.

Tuivasa-Sheck has wasted no time in making the grade at the highest level in league after a promising rugby career.

Good enough to play rugby for the New Zealand Secondary Schools team in 2011 - the same year he played for the New Zealand Under-18 league team - Tuivasa-Sheck can be seen these days on the wing for the Sydney Roosters NRL side.

He will be at Eden Park on Saturday alongside Sonny Bill Williams when they play the Warriors.

Also a dab hand at tag, touch, athletics and volleyball, Tuivasa-Sheck was Otahuhu College's 2011 Sportsman of the Year and deputy head prefect.

Muir, 19, represented New Zealand at under-18 level as a 16-year-old in Australia. In 2011 he co-captained the New Zealand under-18 team against Australia and last year played in Malaysia as a member of the New Zealand under-21 team.

Late last year he was promoted from the development squad to the 24-strong Black Sticks national squad.

He follows other recent Black Sticks including Ryan Archibald and Simon Childs in being recognised by the Herald.

Webster, 18, is still at Westlake Boys' High School but has already had plenty of medals hung around his neck including gold in the coxed four at the Junior World Championships in Bulgaria.

His thoughts are now on next week's Maadi Cup regatta where, for the third time, he will be a member of the Westlake eight. He captains the school's rowing team.

Adept on both the erg and dyno machine, Webster is seen as a star of the future even if he was pipped for Westlake's Sportsman of the Year in 2012 by Breakers star Tai Webster and for the North Harbour Young Sportsperson of the Year by shot put sensation Jacko Gill.

Williamson, 18, is nursing herself back to full fitness after injury but has already competed at two Junior World Championships on both track and road. After her points race bronze in 2011, she won silver last year, adding a second silver in the scratch race. She was also within half a wheel of bronze in the road race.

These days, as she prepares to head to the United States, Alexandra-based Williamson is in her second year of studying for a bachelor of science at Massey University majoring in psychology.

The winners receive $1500 training grants from the Herald and a product prize. The winners, their parents and coaches will be guests at an awards function next month.

- NZ Herald

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