After spending the past eight years chasing her rugby dream in Hamilton former Black Fern Sosoli Talawadua is enjoying her time back in her hometown helping grow the game.

The eight-cap hooker returned to Whanganui last year because she wanted her daughter to grow up with her family around.

Upon her return to her old stamping grounds, Talawadua thrust herself straight into the sport she loves: volunteer coaching school girls' rugby.

She was approached for a position by Wanganui Rugby, and has been working part-time as women's/secondary school rugby development officer since the beginning of the year.

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"It's been really good being back home, really busy now," she said.

Talawadua had only worked six weeks before the country was forced into lockdown because of Covid-19.

"We were working from home, but all rugby was cancelled at the time. So we were just putting things into place once we left alert level 4 and 3 and what we would be doing once rugby was up and running again.

"Once the decision was made on a date, we have been full-on."

Talawadua returned to Whanganui after playing six seasons with Waikato in the Farah Palmer Cup, and will be playing for the Manawatu Cyclones this year after a strong 2019 season in which she won player of the year for the side.

Talawadua was a member of the 2017 World Cup-winning Black Ferns, when they defeated England 41-32 in Ireland.

Talawadua has been a key figure in getting the Wanganui Metro Women's team up and running for their debut in the Prue Christie Cup - the Manawatu women's club competition.

The side have a committed squad of 23 players for the 2020 season, more than double what they had on paper last year.

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"Last year we only had six to eight girls who were committing every week for training. It has been really cool to have a big group to put in our own team this year."

Talawadua credits Wanganui Rugby CEO Bridget Belsham as a key person in helping grow the women's game.

"Bridget has been a huge driver and advocate for women in rugby, which has been really awesome in getting girls along."

2017 Rugby World Cup winner Sosoli Talawadua is back in Whanganui, helping grow women's and the next generation's rugby players. Photo / Bevan Conley
2017 Rugby World Cup winner Sosoli Talawadua is back in Whanganui, helping grow women's and the next generation's rugby players. Photo / Bevan Conley

Despite struggling to get winning results in their debut campaign, Talawadua said she has enjoyed sharing her national-level experience with her side.

"It's been great being able to pass on the knowledge I've gained over the years and teaching the girls the basics and fundamentals involved with rugby."

A number of the Wanganui Metro Women's side are playing rugby for the first time since leaving high school, with Talawadua noting the quick improvement of women's skills over the past five years.

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"The game has changed a lot of the years. The game is a lot faster, the girls are a lot stronger. They are taking on the challenge and developing their skills again, which is really cool to see them again."

"We didn't put any expectations on ourselves to win games or the season, as long as we are taking small learnings from each game and improving each week then we are happy with these results."

Talawadua hopes to build upon her strong 2019 campaign with the Manawatu Cyclones, spending the next month making sure her body is ready for the Farah Palmer Cup season starting in late August.

"Just working on my fitness a lot to earn my starting position," she said. "Hoping to gain fitness over the next six and seven weeks to cement a starting position would be awesome."

Talawadua hopes to build on the foundation the women have laid this year, looking to keep the squad active and connected so they hit 2021 running: "Just try and keep them together over the summer, doing a bit of training maybe we try make a touch team to stay fit so come next year we are ready to get back into it and have a bit more fitness and experience this year."

The Wanganui Metro Women have their final game of the season this Saturday, where they take on table-topping FOBO-Oroua at 1pm at Cooks Gardens.

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