Cathrine Tuivaiti talks to Liam Napier about her netball career, being dropped by the Silver Ferns, and her constant fight to stay different.

"I might not be everyone's cup of tea but I might be someone's shot of vodka."

Cathrine Tuivaiti could never be characterised as soothing English breakfast.

No, she has always been different, and proud of it. She has always embraced much more bite, more sass, than any cuppa.

Those notorious on-court facials said she was ready to rumble.

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And rumble she has, from one drama to the next it seems. Tuivaiti's netball career has been a near constant state of struggle and fight.

Her shot of vodka description seems fitting, then. Sharp, strong, anything but ordinary.

"I never see people like me in this game, and I never hear people like me in this game. I try to be as authentically me as possible," Tuivaiti says.

"I stand for a very specific type of person who maybe doesn't fit the athlete mould or the netballers' body or the way a women is supposed to talk and act.

"I stand for a lot of things that I know and love and netball has helped me become that.

"If I took what a lot of people would say about me and made me feel then I wouldn't be able to carry on.

"A lot of the people I do this for aren't always strangers. A few of them are my family members and they don't even know."

Through all the setbacks and stigma, Tuivaiti kept dropping goals, kept breaking barriers. She left home at 14 to chase the netball dream and was never going to let the knockers bring her down.

It hasn't been easy, though.

Former Silver Ferns shooter Cathrine Tuivaiti. Photo / Getty
Former Silver Ferns shooter Cathrine Tuivaiti. Photo / Getty

Even now as prepares for her maiden season in Scotland after moving closer to husband Jimmy, the former North Harbour loose forward turned Zebre and Italian international, struggles are never far from the surface.

"It's a rollercoaster emotionally. Some days I love it, some days I hate it. But no matter what it changed my life. I've met people I would have never crossed paths with.

"I've wished I didn't do it a lot of the time and then I walk into the Scottish Sirens battling with internal thoughts like 'I don't want to do this anymore' and I see how much they love netball and I realise I'm where I'm supposed to be."

Janine Southby's Silver Ferns tenure ended Tuivaiti's test career.

Southby cited fitness and shooting volume concerns for not inviting Tuivaiti to trial alongside 25 others last year.

After moving from the home comforts of the Northern Mystics to the Central Pulse in a bid to improve her chances of a national recall, that exclusion signalled the door to the Silver Ferns was closed.

Tuivaiti claims the reasoning behind her non-selection was never directly explained to her. Still, it was clear then there would be no addition to her 24 tests so she reluctantly signed with the Adelaide Thunderbirds.

"It was a huge decision because I had to turn my back on Netball New Zealand which I refused to do for years. I was willing to fight and stand up for a bit of injustice or push for answers because I knew it was unfair in my eyes."

Two days after putting pen to paper and cutting ties with New Zealand, Tuivaiti tore her ACL. It was excruciating; her first major injury and it could not have come at a worse time.

"I felt like I had done enough and put my neck on the line many times so that was my stance in saying goodbye to New Zealand so when my knee went it wasn't just the netball career it hurt my heart a lot because that was not how I wanted to go out of this game."

Tuivaiti's screensaver swiftly became a picture of her lying prone on the court with the grip of death athletes who suffer the same brutal injury tend to replicate. It horrified those around her but she needed the picture to drive her recovery.

Coming into a new competition with new rules and a new style was daunting enough, let alone doing it not at full fitness. The second the Thunderbirds could see Tuivaiti jump and move she was back on court. She managed four games last season, two with the feeder team, but in that time formed a clear view of the superior Australian league.

"Average Aunty Barbara down the street would say New Zealand isn't as good as Australia and so when I hear that I understand it because you can see it.

"At the time I thought [that] but now I know it is the best competition going around for netball.

Cathrine Tuivaiti in action for the Central Pulse in 2017. Photo / Photosport
Cathrine Tuivaiti in action for the Central Pulse in 2017. Photo / Photosport

"New Zealand is smarter with the ball and space where Australians are stronger, fitter and faster.

"The world is picking up on the Australian style and we need to adapt to that because when we went into the Constellation Cup it was fairly obvious that we were behind physically the way the game is allowed to be played."

Having been in contact with, and ultimately turned down, an approach from the Glasgow-based Sirens prior to joining the Thunderbirds, Tuivaiti struck up the conversation again as the lure of living closer to her husband grew.

The high school sweethearts have spent 13 years maintaining their long-distance relationship from opposite sides of the globe. Jimmy flew home and then back to Italy for their wedding two years ago. Even when they managed to find time to travel to see each other their schedules were such that one still had playing commitments to juggle.

"To spend some real time together where we have nowhere to be is something we have not experienced yet but we're doing what we told each other we would do which is give everything we have to our sports."

Tuivaiti did, however, make it to Chicago to watch Jimmy make his test debut against Ireland in November.

"He put his heart and soul into it and now it's paying off. It's awesome to see him through all those hard times when he would ring home and say he didn't want to do this anymore. There's a language barrier too which makes it even harder to be away from everyone and not be able to converse. We all take that for granted."

Unlike countless New Zealand rugby stars shifting north, Tuivaiti's move to Scotland in September was certainly not money related.

"It's not as common for netballers to come over for a million dollars, no. That's not what's happening here."

As the pin-up poster woman for the Sirens, Tuivaiti's role is as much to help raise the profile of netball in Scotland as it is to lead the way on court. She will also train with, and help prepare, the Gail Parata-led national team ahead of next year's World Cup in Liverpool.

At a time in her career where she felt compelled to push netball away, the contagious passion around the Sirens team has proved inspiring.

Tuivaiti has no idea what the future holds beyond next year's Vitality Superleague campaign, and still has so many jarring emotions when reflecting over her turbulent pursuit of the Ferns.

Through it all, though, the now 32-year-old knows she has been true to herself.

She remains thankful netball has provided the platform to speak about issues others often suppress.

"I never wanted it to end like that hence all the fighting but I'm content. I can look back when I'm 300-years-old and I've just put my teeth back in and I can say 'I used to play for them. They got rid of me but I tried to comeback and I gave it everything I had'.

"I know I badmouth it sometimes and talk about Netball New Zealand and the people there that I didn't get along with and made me feel like crap but there are other people who took a chance on me and went against what they were being told and picked me anyway so there are so many conflicting memories I have.

"At the end of the day it changed my life and it can do the same for so many other women and men that want to play or be part of it."