Four Kihikihi women travelled south with Waikato to take on Canterbury in the Farah Palmer Cup final at Rugby Park in Christchurch on October 31.
Carla Hohepa, Chyna Hohepa, Emma-Lee Heta and Merania Paraone were all selected in the starting 23.
Although showing absolute determination and strength throughout the game, Waikato lost in overtime 8-7.
"It was definitely a final. We're pretty gutted to be honest and still can't really believe it. We're obviously still real proud of everything we've done this season but it's a bit gutting that we don't fully get the recognition that I think the girls deserve," said Waikato head coach James Semple.
"The goal was to win the championship and we were 20 seconds off doing that, so absolutely gutted."
Both teams went into the final unbeaten and this was Canterbury's fourth year in a row winning the competition.
On the return to Hamilton airport, Waikato rugby had put on a small gathering and function.
James and the squad were stoked with the turnout of fans and sponsors who were there to welcome them.
"We're just so grateful for all the support and fans. It's probably the most we've felt it this season. It definitely helped get us through some dark places in games and it's probably one of the reasons why we were successful, because we could play for each other and that's what it's all about at the end of the day."
Waikato secured their grand final spot after a 31-14 win over the Manawatū Cyclones in the semifinal which saw them leading 19-0 at halftime.
Auckland was the speedbump that Canterbury had to overcome, winning the match 36-21.
2020 was just Waikato's second grand final appearance in the competitions 21 year history.
The first appearance was in 2014 against Auckland where they lost 28-14.
This season was James' first in charge, having previously been an assistant coach in 2017-2018.
A former provincial rugby player himself, James has a great passion for his team.
"It's a team I love and I got to know the girls in 2017-2018. When we took over in 2017 they were really young but we still managed to make the playoffs that year," said James.
"We knew that they were always going to be a resilient group and just had the potential. Credit to the girls and I'm really proud of them to be honest.
"It's the whole squad that contributes to our success, even though some of our girls haven't played that many minutes, they're still massive in terms of us being successful."
Lock Chyna Hohepa was in the 2014 grand final squad. Back then she played fullback.
"I was actually a back that year, I can still remember losing to Auckland. This final was very different, just the challenges we had to face due to Covid-19 and possibility of no rugby at all this season," said Chyna.
"The sacrifice and determination to do as much as we could in a small turn around was so inspiring and we had the best team culture that really made our experience one we will never forget."
She said the season's success was due to great coaching and the team showing up to play – they were there to succeed and in doing so, they have made lifelong friendships.
"It was a massive achievement; one we set at the beginning of the season, knowing the hard work had been done it was very special to be part of the legacy we have left behind."
The 2020 season has also been family orientated for Chyna, pulling on the Waikato kit alongside sister Carla for the first time since 2012.
"Having her by my side has made it such a memorable year and to learn from her experience is such an honour."
Carla has been selected for the Probables squad to take on the Possibles on November 7.
She has also been shortlisted for Women's 15s rugby Player of the Decade by World Rugby.
Another highlight for Chyna was having her daughter Aria as the ball girl for their semifinal against the Cyclones.
Emma-Lee Heta had a strong season like the rest of the squad and started the majority of the games.
She made the number 7 jersey her own and put her all into every play and tackle.
In the week leading up to the final, the trainings were low-key but there was lots of clarity in terms of what they wanted to do as a team.
"Everyone's just doing their job and they're all playing for each other – if you can get a team doing that it makes them pretty hard to beat," said James.
He has nothing but praise for the women from Kihikihi.
"The Kihikihi girls have been going awesome. The Hohepa's leadership is really good and they just do their job really well. They're really beneficial to have in the team."
This year was Te Awamutu Intermediate teacher Merania Paraone's (#200) début season for Waikato.
James had previously coached her sister Rina, who tipped him off to her ability.
"Medz has been unreal. I went and watched Kihikihi play a couple of club games and I saw her play. I was like; we've got to get this girl in our team. She was playing second-five that game and we had a hole to fill at hooker," said James.
"I gave her a call and said 'how would you feel if we put you in the team first and foremost'. She was pretty pumped about that. Then I said 'we're going to look to select you as a hooker and we'll coach you up, would you be keen to do that?'
"She jumped at it and that's credit to her as a person - she's taken it with both hands. She's pretty much learnt how to throw, scrum and play hooker in two months and has done a bloody good job."
Chyna hopes that what the squad has achieved will encourage players for the future from the Kihikihi and Waikato area.
"For Kihikihi to have four players was huge for our small town and our club. It will hopefully inspire young and old girls to come have a go and get involved next season."
Kihikihi women's rugby manager Selina Heke was proud of their club's work ethic and the players that it produced.
"It's been exciting for all our past and present club members who have followed and supported our Kihikihi Women's team this season and the added bonus to also watch these four ladies on their journey representing our club in the Waikato Women's team,' said Selina.
"We are so proud of them all and even though they didn't come away with the Farah Cup they're champions in our eyes. This is grassroots rugby at its best and makes us proud to see our little club and our local community represented at a national level.
"We couldn't have asked for a better final, they gave their all and left it out on that field."
Canterbury 8 (Cindy Nelles try, Kendra Cocksedge penalty)
Waikato 7 (Kennedy Simon try, Chelsea Alley conversion)