Funny what can spring from chance meetings. Two years ago, Mangere College student Lose Mafi watched on at the school's sports awards as Black Ferns captain Fiao'o Fa'amausili addressed all the promising young sports stars.
Now the 17-year-old year 13 student is playing senior rep rugby for the Auckland Storm in the Farah Palmer Cup alongside Fa'amausili, one of the most durable and respected figures in the women's game. The two are also clubmates at Marist.
"Watching Fi, she loves the sport and is so passionate about it. She makes me want to be that person and be a better player and role model. She's not only a Black Fern, but she's a good lady outside the environment," says Mafi, a humble, quiet student more at ease talking about the 36-year-old rake than herself.
Fa'amausili first played NPC for the Storm the same year Mafi was born, an indication of her longevity and Mafi's youth.
Mafi is not the sole schoolgirl to make the Storm in recent times. Others include current players Onjeurlina Leiataua (out of Papatoetoe High) and Kiritapu Demant (out of EGGS). That duo has kicked on to full Black Ferns representation.
Mafi is slight in stature, but she can play and has plenty of pace on the wing. Her three games in the Farah Palmer Cup have yielded two tries, including an important five-pointer in the 29-25 victory over Canterbury last weekend.
"Making the team was beyond what I expected. My original goal was to get into the Auckland secondary schools team, so making the Storm was a big thing for me," Mafi says.
Fa'amausili gave her the heads-up the Storm selectors had their eye on her, so she upped the ante at training. While she plays mainly at halfback for Marist and Mangere College, she says the transition to the wing has been made easier by the Storm environment.
"The women are welcoming and supportive. Going into the team, I thought I was below all of them. They showed me that it doesn't matter what size I am," Mafi says.
Coach Dean Bickerton took her aside and was able to instil some confidence in her at the first training. She hasn't looked back.
Now she is rubbing shoulders with Olympic silver medallist Tyla Nathan-Wong. Sevens is an option for Mafi, who is keen to head to the US with the Marist sevens for a tournament early next season.
From April to August, Mafi's rugby routine is a busy one. Aside from training, she will play for Marist on a Saturday, have church and training on a Sunday, and then is co-captain in the Mangere girls' team which plays in the developmental 10s grade on Monday nights. The younger girls in the school side look up to Mafi.
"There are some very young girls in the juniors. They are still learning, but this season they showed me a lot of passion. They surprised me with how well they did."
The Storm host Otago at Colin Maiden Park on Saturday, and Mafi is sure to be in the mix.
National First XV Top 4 tournament (Palmerston North).
Boys' semifinals (Friday): MAGS 41 (Waimana Reidlinger-Kapa 2, John Latu, Thomas Barlow, Niven Longopoa, Isaiah Papali'i, Kahu Boyd tries; Longopoa pen, Oliver Shepherd pen) Southland BHS 0. HT: 18-0.
Hastings BHS 18 Hamilton BHS 10 (Kieran Lee try; Joshua Moorby con, pen). HT: 10-6 Hamilton BHS.
Boys' final (Sunday): MAGS 14 (Isaiah Papali'i try; Oliver Shepherd 3 pen) Hastings BHS 13. HT: 8-3.
*MAGS win their third national title since 1982.
Boys' 3-4 playoff: Hamilton BHS 36 Southland BHS 10.
Co-ed semifinals: Feilding HS 20 St Peter's (Cambridge) 6, Aorere 32 Burnside HS 13.
Co-ed final: Feilding HS 25 Aorere 5 (Penisoni Fineanganofo try). HT: 10-0.
Co-ed 3-4 playoff: St Peter's (Cambridge) 37 Burnside HS 10.
Girls' semifinals: Southland GHS 43 Kaipara 24, St Mary's (Wellington) 22 Hamilton GHS 17.
Girls' 3-4 playoff: Kaipara 10 Hamilton GHS 7.
NZSS tournament (Bruce Pulman Park, Papakura)
Boys' final: Southern Cross 16 Kelston BHS 12.
*This is Southern Cross' first national title. Rod Ratu was named coach of the tournament while Kakoi Togoiu was named MVP.
Final placings: Southern Cross 1, Kelston BHS 2, Westlake BHS 3, St Paul's 4, Tamaki 5, Tokoroa 6, Manurewa 7, Aorere 8, Wesley 9, Avondale 10, MAGS 11, Otahuhu 12, Papatoetoe 13.
NZSS First XI tournaments
Lotto premier boys (Papamoa):
Final: Sacred Heart 5 St Kentigern 4 (penalty shootout).
Final placings: Sacred Heart 1, St Kentigern 2, Auckland Grammar 3, Westlake BHS 4, Mt Roskill Grammar 7.
*This is Sacred Heart's third national title in five seasons.
Lotto premier girls (Nelson):
Final: MAGS 6 (Jacqui Hand 3, Caitlin Pritchard 2, Emma Fletcher goals) St Peter's (Cambridge) 0.
Final placings: MAGS 1, St Peter's (Cambridge) 2, St Kentigern 3, Hamilton GHS 4, Rangitoto 5, Baradene 9, Takapuna Grammar 10.
*This is MAGS' fourth national title in a row and third consecutive triple crown after winning the Auckland SS premier league and Knockout Cup.
Rankin Cup (boys):
Final: St Paul's Collegiate 4 (Reuben Andrews 3, Maks Wyndham-Smith) Wairarapa 3; 3-4: Rangitoto 3 (Loek van Dijk 2, Michael Lambourne) St Andrew's 1
Federation Cup (girls):
Final: Villa Maria 2 St Cuthbert's 1 (Katie Doar); 3-4: St Margaret's 4 Diocesan 2 (Rachel McKee, Tayla Parkes)
Upper North Island SS tournament (Papakura)
Final: MAGS 23 St Kentigern 22
A grade final placings: MAGS 1, St Kentigern 2, Rotorua GHS 3, EGGS 4, Aorere 5, Baradene 6, Long Bay 7, Hillcrest 8, St Paul's Collegiate 9, Howick 10, Waikato Dio 11, Carmel 12.
New Zealand SS qualifying tournament (NSEC).
Boys' final: Rangitoto 91 Auckland Grammar 57.
Final placings (top 7 qualify for nationals): Rangitoto 1, Auckland Grammar 2, Rosmini 3, Westlake BHS 4, Kelston BHS 5, Selwyn 6, MAGS 7
Girls' final: Westlake GHS 88 AGGS 52
Final placings: Westlake GHS 1, AGGS 2, Rangitoto 3, St Kentigern 4, MAGS 5, Massey 6, EGGS 7.
Auckland, North Harbour, Western kickoffs, various venues.
First XI boys Knockout Cup final: St Kentigern v Auckland Grammar at Bill McKinlay Park, Mt Wellington, 2pm.
Auckland SS race four, Slater Road, South Head, 10am.
Ki O Rahi
Auckland SS junior and senior tournament, Barry Curtis Park, 9.30am.