As a young girl Cheryl Waaka used to sit at the breakfast table at home in Taheke listening to in-depth rugby conversations. The key word here was listening; as a netball player at the time, her input was limited. Not any more.
Cheryl Waaka is now the one being listened too. The former Black Ferns New Zealand women's player, who won two world titles, is now the first woman in Northland rugby history to coach a senior men's club rugby team.
Waaka is the coach of Kaikohe, a side so far unbeaten and subsequently heavily favoured to win a title this season.
An appointment made more by accident than design, Waaka says that, while her foray into coaching is feeding her appetite for the game, the fact that it might be making a bit of sporting history is purely coincidental.
"I think I might be here by mistake probably more than anything else," Waaka said.
"Really I just walked into the job by accident. I went down to the Kaikohe club to try and start up a women's team but that fell through. So I started training with the boys just to give it a go and I'm still there," she said.
"I think it might be a bit fortunate for me though. You don't get many women stepping up and doing a men's team."
The youngest in a famous Northland sporting family, Cheryl has plenty of rugby knowledge to tap into should she need some help.
For a start there is a massive bank of personal knowledge garnered from eight years of playing international rugby with the Black Ferns - a career that included two world cup titles and a hatful of provincial titles with Auckland.
But in emergencies she can turn to her brother Brett, the Kaikohe captain, who is a former Northland skipper as well. Failing that she can dial up Tuck Waaka, another former Northland rugby captain who also played for Bay of Plenty, Auckland, Otago and the New Zealand Maori. Tuck Waaka is her stepbrother.
Her father Wattie Waaka is a Northland rugby identity too. Wattie coached senior rugby in the Hokianga for several years, including a spell as a Northland age group coach.
According to her mother, Hukutai, living in the Waaka household made gaining rugby knowledge easy.
"When you sit around the breakfast table every day and rugby is the topic of the day most days, it is hard not to learn something about rugby," Hukutai said.
"Cheryl used to play netball, and was pretty good at it too, but when she first started to play rugby she soon made her mark," she said.
But seeing Cheryl step straight into coaching a senior men's team was still a surprise. Even Cheryl acknowledges all that breakfast table rugby know-how must be helping now she is there.
"I suppose there's a `been there and done that a bit myself' factor. I am not like like an everyday woman trying to coach rugby. But I think what most probably helped is that I know all these boys (in the Kaikohe team) and I know the game. I grew up with most of them so it's not like I have stepped into a whole lot of strangers," she said.
Whatever the recipe, it sure seems to be working.
Kaikohe rumbled through the first round of the Bay of Islands club competition unbeaten, averaging more than 25 points a game. They have since scored two big victories in a North Zone championship play-off with one more game to go before that competition heads to finals.
It seems Waaka's coaching style has found favour with the players. Having had the privilege of playing under several highly rated coaches herself, Daryl Suasua, Jed Rowlands and Kiwi Searancke to name three, she says her transition from player to coach has so far been smooth.
"I sort of remember how a lot of my own coaches were and you pick the best out of it all I suppose. The stuff I have been doing is what we were coached at New Zealand level but the main thing has been getting a friendly culture in the team,'' she said. ``From my experience that's the culture of a winning team. If you can get on well off the field you will do anything for each other on the field."