Liana Mikaele-Tu'u will make her starting XV debut for the Hawke's Bay Tui women's rugby team tonight in a position she has never played in.
The 17-year-old Hastings Girls' High School Year 13 student, who had 40 minutes as a substitute No 8 on debut in last weekend's win against North Harbour, will start at lock in a third round Farah Palmer Cup Championship clash against Taranaki at Napier's McLean Park. It will be a big night for the Mikaele-Tu'u family as older brother and Highlanders loosie Marino Mikaele-Tu'u is likely to make his first appearance of the season for the Magpies after being sidelined for six weeks with a shin injury.
"Playing against North Harbour last weekend was a really good experience. I just went up there and did what I was told. It's going to be good to try another position," Mikaele-Tu'u said.
"Playing at this level is definitely different to playing for my school team. At that level I'm playing against girls who are only half my size while playing for the Tui I come up against players who are twice my size ... it's a big challenge," Mikaele-Tu'u explained.
She has been given a locking berth as regular lock and co-captain Hannah Brough has shifted to blindside flanker in the absence of Kathleen Brown who has a family bereavement and regular substitute lock Rebekah Hurae collected a season-ending shoulder injury against North Harbour. The fact Mikaele-Tu'u made the Tui squad this season after missing two months of the club season including most of the Tui trial games with a fractured left ring finger is an indication of the enormous potential and talent she boasts.
"I don't know too much about the Taranaki team but I know a few of my mates from New Plymouth Girls' High School are in the side so it will be good to catch up with them."
Earlier this season Mikaele-Tu'u helped HGHS win the Hawke's Bay Secondary Schoolgirls competition for the second consecutive year and reach the semifinals of the Hurricanes competition. She also played for her school's A netball team and the Hawke's Bay under-17 netball side for the second consecutive year.
"Rugby will be my No 1 winter sport now. It's the one which gives me more enjoyment," Mikaele-Tu'u said.
"I haven't set any big goals. I just want to keep learning and improve different aspects of my game."
Mikaele-Tu'u is planning to study Health Science at Auckland University next year. Tui halfback and former Auckland-based Black Fern Emma Jensen will help her select a club to play for in Auckland.
Tui head coach Steve Woods said his coaching staff is still trialing different combinations with the aim of fielding their strongest XV in their away game against Tasman next week. The experienced pair of Shaylee Tipiwai and Te Maari MacGregor will have their first starts of the season at fullback and centre respectively.
Black Fern Krysten Cottrell will shift from fullback to her preferred position of first five-eighth.
"The plan is to put on a display we can all be proud of. Our goal is to be back at McLean Park for a home semifinal next month around the same time as the Magpies," Woods added.
Teams for the 5pm match:
Hawke's Bay Tui: Shaylee Tipiwai, Michaela Baker, Te Maari MacGregor, Chanel Atkin, Tori Iosefo, Krysten Cottrell, Emma Jensen, Gemma Woods (co-captain), Niamh Jefferson, Hanna Brough (co-captain), Te Aroha Hunt, Liana Mikaele-Tu'u, Jennifer Simati, Forne Burkin, Whitley Mareikura. Substitutes: Moomooga Palu, Teagan Meyer, Kara Huata, Whitnely Olsen, Sylvia Bockman, Cortez Te Pou, Nicolette Adamson.
Taranaki: Brooke Neilson, Catriona Tulloch, Elle Johns, Chelsea Fowler, Kaya-Rose Kahui, Brooke Sim, Iritana Hohaia, Jalana Smith, Miriam Karalus, Victoria McCullough, Jessica Lampe, Sharee Brown, Leah Barnard, Petra Zwart, Lavenia Nauga-Grey. Substitutes: Donia King, Mikaylah Callaghan, Bethany Gibbs, Natale Haupapa, Catherine Parkinson, Alesha Williams, Anna Cole.