By Jodi Bryant
Northland's Vic Subritzky-Nafatali describes herself as a 'bit of a bully' as a kid so, aged ten, she directed her energy toward the rugby field.
Today, the former Black Fern has been instrumental in the success of this season's newly-relaunched Northland women's rugby team.
"I only started playing because I was a bit of a bully, although I like to think I was more a tutu or mischief at school," grins the 27-year-old. "And really it's the only place you can hit kids without getting into trouble," she laughs.
And she quickly gained respect on the field: "I just remember the boys in our team always passed me the ball and never hogged it and I still keep in contact with some of them to this day."
Growing up in Dunedin, Vic's family were mostly involved in league, apart from her aunty, who took up rugby in her late 30s. Aunty and niece played club rugby together before both playing for Otago Spirit, where, at 15, Vic was the youngest team member and her aunty the oldest, at 38.
"That was special to me because she always took me to trainings and helped me in my early days of playing," recalls Vic.
However, Vic says she was still just playing the game for fun and making some really good mates when she got the call-up in 2012 saying she had made the Black Ferns squad. She represented the country, playing first five, for five seasons which included two World Cups – one of which they won.
During this time, in 2015, Vic moved to Auckland to play for Counties Manukau for a couple of seasons, during which the team won the Farah Palmer Cup – the provincial competition Northland was vying for this year.
After almost a 20-year absence, the Northland Kauri women's rugby team was reformed this year, following the return of women's local club rugby, which hadn't been up and running for several years.
The debut season saw Northland go from strength to strength, winning four of the seven games played, before being beaten in a tight championship semi-final game last month.
But, while it may have ended the season for the Kauri team, head coach Cheryl Smith says it was just the beginning and the first step in a three-year plan to enter the premiership division.
"For me, it was just getting a team on the paddock and see what happened, then we started to win and next minute, we are sitting at semi-final rugby," says Cheryl, adding that she couldn't have asked for a better season in Northland's first year in the competition.
Cheryl says Vic, along with other team members, has been instrumental to the team's success this year.
"Vic's experience really showed the level she's been at and she brings it every time she takes to the field. It's just amazing to have that calibre of player in the team.
"She is very much the soul of the team, she brings the spirit to the team and just lifts them – both the young and senior members, and she makes sure everyone is very much inclusive."
Vic, who these days, calls the Far North settlement of Ngataki, 50km north of Kaitaia, home, says she is 'extremely proud of the girls'.
"It's the first season having a Northland team in the competition and I'm proud of just how well they adapted to the pressure of learning tactical plays in a very short amount of time because it really is a step up from their club trainings.
"We had girls who were travelling from Wellsford, Whangarei and us in Kaitaia to make one training in Kaikohe a week. So, trying to sort combinations in that time was rough but we finally got there in the end. And making it to semi-finals footy in your first year… there's not much you could ask for."
With the season over for our Northland team, Vic is focusing on playing seven-aside around her commitments at NorthTec Kaitaia Campus, where she is undertaking a certificate in carpentry. And of course, the former Southland girl is enjoying the Far North lifestyle.
"I enjoy the warm weather and how relaxed the people are here and I've especially cherished reconnecting with my whanau and our papakainga (homestead).
Vic followed shortly after, signed up for the carpentry course to gain the skills required for renovating the homestead, and has never looked back.
"Living in Ngataki is so cool because I just think about my mum growing up in the area and the good times she had here. And my grandad Hector Subritzky, my mum's dad, and brother are buried there too."
Vic cites highlights from her career to date as receiving player of the Canada series as a Black Fern in 2015, winning the Farah Palmer Cup in 2016, making the 'dream team' of the World Cup and then winning the World Cup in 2017.
"If I was to offer advice to aspiring young female rugby players it would be to not let anyone say you can't do it. If you set your mind to something, no matter what sport it is, you can achieve it with a bit of drive.
"And take every opportunity you get because if you don't, someone else will."