Rugby players don't come smaller than World Cup star Selica Winiata.

Imagine what the Manawatu Turbos men's team thought when this 54kg pocket rocket turned up to train with them for the entire 2016 NPC season.

As the former international Melodie Robinson said after the World Cup final victory over England in Belfast, the Black Ferns are a team full of rich stories.

The 30-year-old fullback Winiata, who latched on to loose ball and scarpered 35 metres for the first try in the final, has a story which makes the grade.


Desperate to take her game to a new level, the brilliant runner - the New Zealand player of the year in 2016 - contacted the Manawatu men's team, and was welcomed into the fold.

It involved becoming a full squad member in everything from contact training (with some slight concessions) to being part of the team announcements and analysis sessions.

"They were more than happy and I became part of the team, except I didn't get selected for the games," she says, while clutching the World Cup during a round of media interviews in Auckland.

"I knew a couple of the players and they made me feel part of the team straight away.

"Some of the players might have taken me a bit lightly at first but when I stepped them and scored a few times that changed, especially when the other boys gave them grief."

Winiata's approach may be a stepping stone to a more professional future for women's rugby. Then again, it may turn out to be about as far as professionalism in women's 15s rugby gets.

There has been a mad scramble to define how the women's game can progress, following the publicity surrounding the Black Ferns highly impressive fifth World Cup triumph.

At this point, all expenses are covered when the Black Ferns are together, and they are paid a small amount - so small that Winiata couldn't remember what it was. There are some extra camps, and famed All Black scrum doctor Mike Cron helped out during this campaign.

Sevens rugby has an element of professionalism, being an Olympic sport. But there are no encouraging noises out of Rugby HQ for the 15s version.

Yet the feeling is that many players would love to find out how far they could take their skills with more full time training, and feel frustrated that there are so few test matches.

But how far can it go, and how will it get there? Will New Zealand Rugby grab the moment, push this as far as it can, or is there an element of tokenism to how they administer the women's game.

Are the obstacles too great? Vitally, semi-professionalism could interfere with the players' other careers. And the men's NPC, a potential domestic blueprint, is hardly a thriving sports industry.

Winiata was tiring of the question about professionalism by the time I talked to her, largely because there are no obvious answers. She hopes the national union does talk to the players about future directions.

In her own case, Winiata took the bull by the horns, training about three times a week - sometimes twice a day - with the Turbos while holding down her job as a Palmerston North police constable. It also led to her joining training sessions with the Chiefs Super Rugby side.

Winiata decided early in her career to follow the example set by Black Ferns legend Farah Palmer, and remain in Manawatu rather than head for any big city rugby advantages.

She is in awe of Dr Palmer, an inspirational figure who achieved high academic honours while also leading the all-conquering Black Ferns.

But it's when Winiata talked about the Black Ferns' team ethos that I take extra notice.

It's easy to get cynical in this age, dealing with sports stars who seem to trot out pre-conceived lines from a whiteboard.

When Winiata spoke, there was absolutely no doubt that it came from the heart, no money involved.

"When you put on the jersey, it's like you get superpowers," said Winiata, a tiny figure even in a normal sized chair.

"You are only a caretaker of the jersey. I want to make sure that when I leave my jersey, it is in a better place than when I picked it up.

"It's about the legacy...and what is embedded by what came before you. That is what makes it a unique team."