If it was anyone else but Chanel Huddleston it could be labelled too big an assignment.

But fortunately for the Big Barrell Hawke's Bay Tuis women's rugby team it's Huddleston, the side's most experienced player. After missing the Tuis' last two matches while on holiday in Australia Huddleston, who played openside flanker in their previous four outings, will start at centre when they take on Otago Spirit in today's Farah Palmer Cup Championship semifinal at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium. To add to the challenge she couldn't train with the team this week as she was completing a course in Auckland.

"I'm quite excited about being in the backline again. I last played there for the Tuis in 2012," Huddleston said.

The 34-year-old Te Awa School teacher who first played for the Tuis in 2001 will be playing her 69th first class game for the side. Her switch comes in the wake of regular centre Te Maari MacGregor collecting a broken finger in last weekend's 22-10 loss to Manawatu in Palmerston North.


Another of the side's regular midfielders, captain and 2006 world champion Black Fern Amy Williams, has switched to first five-eighth as regular pivot, Black Fern Krysten Cottrell, is unavailable with her knee injury. Huddleston played first five-eighth for her Napier Technical club this season.

A former Tuis coach and former Kiwi Ferns rugby league representative, Huddleston, said earlier this year she didn't expect to play for the Tuis again but would consider coaching the side again. However she was lured back as a player, as were all of the province's other top players because of the positive vibe head coach Steve Woods and his staff were creating.

"There's a really good team environment there. It's one of the best Tuis seasons I have had. There is a good chance I'll be back again next year because there are so many young girls with lots of potential who are good to work with."

Like her teammates, Huddleston, has embraced the side's Black Hawk Down motto. It was introduced to the side by her Tech clubmate and former Chiefs and Magpies prop David Briggs.

It comes from the 2001 film of the same name which focuses on a group of helicopter pilots which were shot down during a 1993 military operation in Somalia.

"Those pilots all stuck together and dug deep when the going got tough. That's what we are all about," Huddleston added.

Steve Woods is confident Huddleston will cope with the switch of roles as well as the return after a lengthy spell.

"She is freshened up and ready to go. Chanel is part of our leadership group and has offered plenty of encouragement to our younger players."

Woods is just as optimistic about the Tuis' chances of gaining revenge for a 31-12 loss when they played Otago last month.

"The girls are so brassed off about that day. We were under-prepared. This time we will have all arrived in Dunedin on the night before the game. Mentally we are in the right space and physically we will be all good.

"We are so proud about making the semifinals for the first time since the Farah Palmer Cup was introduced as that was our goal at the start of the season. Now we are here we are pretty keen to go one step better," Woods said.

Teams for the 2.30pm game:
Hawke's Bay Tuis: Shaylee Tipiwai, Felicity Powdrell, Chanel Huddleston, Natasha-Dean Greville, Tori Iosefo, Amy Williams (captain), Emma Jensen, Gemma Woods, Niamh Jefferson, Laurae Blake, Rebekah Hurae, Hanna Brough, Natalie Cotton, Jessie Taueki, Kara Huata. Substitutes: Forwards, Davina Atkin, Rawinia Mason, Kathleen Brown, Lara Kendrick. Backs, Hailey Baker, Kaitlin Bates, Danielle Pomare-MacKay.
Otago Spirit: Sheree Hume, Trisha Hopcroft, Kilisitina Moata'ane, Greer Muir, Kiana Wereta, Rosie Kelly, Rosie Buchanan-Brown, Morgan Henderson, Zoe Whatarau, Julia Gorinski, Jess Kendall, Kate Smith, Eilis Doyle, Tegan Hollows, Isla Pringle. Substitutes: Morgan Walker, Amy Rule, Jess Dermody, Janelle Romanchuck, Sammy Wong, Georgina McCullough, Cheyenne Cunningham.