They say opposites attract but come 1pm this afternoon, engaged couple Matt Johnson and Taylah Hodson-Tomokino will have something very special in common.
Northland's women's rugby team play their first ever game of Farah Palmer Cup rugby today in Napier as they take on Hawke's Bay. Hodson-Tomokino, who will start at lock, will earn her first cap for her adopted region.
Alongside her will be Johnson, who is in his first season with the Northland men's team which will make them the first couple to play for Northland in both the Mitre 10 Cup and the Farah Palmer Cup.
It has been a landmark year for women's rugby in Northland with the restart of a women's club rugby competition as well as under-18 and under-16 competitions. With the region's maiden introduction into New Zealand's top women's domestic league, it presents a huge opportunity for female players in and those who hail from Northland.
This achievement for Hodson-Tomokino, 23, and Johnson, 25, was a great outcome after two very different and yet similar paths to reaching rugby's domestic level.
Johnson, born and bred in Auckland, encountered a major roadblock in his rugby career at a young age when developed rheumatic fever and required heart surgery (an aortic valve replacement) at just 13 years old.
While the surgery was a success, Johnson was received advice which could have derailed his future in rugby, or any sport for that matter.
"[The doctors] recommended that I should not play any contact sport ever again, just because the heart might not be able to take it," Johnson said.
Facing the decision of a lifetime as a teenager, Johnson made the call.
"I couldn't give it up so I had a talk with my family and said, 'I want to go back and play' and they were all for it, they supported me.
Rugby: Women's teams prepped for season ahead
"I didn't really think about how dangerous it was looking back now, but it was just the joy of playing rugby and league."
He would then slowly integrate back into sport through touch, where he would meet Hodson-Tomokino, and then league before first playing for the St Peters College 1st XV in Auckland as a Year 11.
After school, Johnson had a stint with the Melbourne Storm league under-20s before returning to the Auckland scene with the under-20 rugby team. In 2017 and 2018, Johnson earned a contract with the Southland Stags.
Despite a winless season with the Stags in 2017, Johnson earned a contract with the Blues Super Rugby team for 2018 and about a month out from the start of the season, his worst nightmare struck.
Johnson needed another heart surgery and this time, it was a matter of life and death.
"It was just like when I first found out when I was 13, I couldn't play again," he said.
"I had finally reached that level I never thought I could with my heart and then I got that opportunity and it was taken away from me again, so I was gutted but I knew I needed to have that second surgery."
In another heartbreaking decision, Johnson went under the knife again but thanks to some quick healing and a dedicated partner/nurse, Johnson returned to the field for the Stags five and a half months later in opposition to the usual two-year recovery time.
After a summer holiday in Northland and discussions with the rugby union, Johnson found himself moving from the deep south to the winterless north and now plays midfield for the boys in blue.
In contrast, Hodson-Tomokino's progression in sport had not be impacted by injury but by her success in other codes.
Born in Te Kuiti and the daughter of Ramsey Tomokino, a Northland rugby player in 1998 and former Samoa rugby player and manager, Hodson-Tomokino instead followed in her mother's footsteps and became a national BMX champion at seven years of age.
She would go on to win two more national titles for her age-group and earned a second place in the World BMX Championships in 2003 in Perth. After a few years at the top, Hodson-Tomokino saw conquering rugby as her next mission
"I just felt I achieved as much as I could with BMX and I suppose it was my young teen attitude which said it was time to give something else a go," she said.
While attending Mount Albert Grammer School in Auckland, Hodson-Tomokino was integral in introducing a school sevens programme and would go on to represent Samoa in sevens in 2015 and 15s last year.
The lock, who had earned three caps for the Manusina in 15s, said she knew she made the right decision to represent Samoa when she played her first game against Papua New Guinea.
"I remember running out and I always thought, 'I don't know why people cry during the anthems and then as soon as it was on, I was crying," she confessed.
"It was definitely a really proud moment for me and it's cool to represent Samoa like my Dad did."
Hodson-Tomokino, who worked as an accountant in Auckland as well as the host of the Sky Sport Land Rover 1st XV Revision show, said it was cool to represent Northland alongside her partner.
While neither directly hail from Northland, both will always see the region as a special place after Johnson proposed atop Parihaka in April this year.
With big aspirations of a Super Rugby comeback for Johnson and a future rugby union chief executive role in Hodson-Tomokino's sights, both believed they had found the perfect balance which allowed them to flourish in rugby in the next few years.
"It definitely makes me better, training with Matt, he definitely doesn't go easy on me because if I need to work on my tackling he'll go as hard as he can," Hodson-Tomokino said.
"Taylah definitely pushes me," Johnson agreed. "She doesn't sugar-coat it when I don't have a good game so she's really harsh on me which is good to get better with form."