Just a year ago Tiana Ngawati was in training as a rugby player - now she is on the cusp of a promising refereeing career.
The 32-year-old former Black Ferns Sevens player moved to Tauranga last year with her partner Bradley Anderson, a strength and conditioning coach for the Mount Maunganui-based Black Ferns Sevens team.
Ngawati last played for the Black Ferns in 2013, but was still playing Farah Palmer Cup for Auckland in 2017. She says one of the big challenges in taking up the whistle is closing the book on a playing career. There was also the challenge of being a travelling mother to three-year-old Carol-Marie.
"Playing meant a big commitment in training and travelling, but I wanted to stay in the game. I have made the decision to be a ref, but it is a process. I still have itchy feet, but I am okay with that. I am giving back to the game and I have shifted into that mind-frame. I wanted to stay involved and I didn't want to miss out. You have people ask if you want to play and I get guilty feelings saying no," Ngawati says.
Ngawati's refereeing journey started with a conversation with Bay of Plenty Rugby Union community manager Pat Rae.
"I asked what the process would be, he said because I had so much experience playing I would be put on under-14 games and take it one grade at a time. I moved into second division first XV and then senior reserve grade. I had a ref coach at every game giving me tips around positioning and clarifying things.
"I had to avoid running the inside pass line. I found I was getting tired more as a referee as well. I have been told to take my players' hat off, but I find I have to wear my players' hat and my referees' hat. You find you understand what the players are going through and apply the law on top of that."
Ngawati has had a meteoric rise through the whistle-blowing ranks, one that has garnered the praise of New Zealand Rugby national referee manager Bryce Lawrence.
"I didn't anticipate it to unfold so quickly," Ngawati says.
"I remember having the conversation with Pat on the couch and my goal was to get to national sevens."
Despite playing at the National Rugby Sevens last year, Ngawati will be at next month's national tournament as a referee. Ngawati officiated at the Ignite 7s tournament in Auckland last weekend and will head to Dubai to officiate at The Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens tournament, which is held with the World Rugby Sevens Series Men's and Women's tournaments next week. That tournament will run for three days from December 5.
Her partner Anderson will also be there in his role with the Black Ferns.
Ngawati says it would be great to be on the World Rugby Sevens Series circuit and reaching the top level is within her capabilities, according to Lawrence.
"Tiana is fit and fast and ticks all of the boxes. She started at sevens and hooked on to that really quick," Lawrence says.
"She is really good with people and relationships and she has a really engaging personality. She is respected by the players and she is very coachable. She has shown a lot of promise. We are looking to involve her more in the national squad set up."
The Farah Palmer Cup is the next step up in the fifteen-a-side game while getting onto the Sevens Series is another goal for Ngawati, as is the Olympics.
"If she keeps progressing the way she is I think she will be someone World Rugby will look at," Lawrence says."