Super Rugby Aupiki 'fresh challenge' for Sevens star

Tenika Willison on attack during 2022 Cape Town Sevens

Black Ferns Sevens player Tenika Willison has signed with the Chiefs Manawa for the upcoming Super Rugby Aupiki season.

The 25-year-old sighted wanting a "change in scenery" for the switch in format, with this being her seventh year in the sevens environment.

"I just wanted to explore new things, have a new stimulation and challenge. Sevens is a challenge, being in this environment is a challenge, but I think I want to step away, refresh in the 15s environment and I will come back (to sevens) and see what happens," she said.

Willison will be released from Black Fern sevens at the end of this month, after their tournament in Sydney. She will then join the Chiefs for her debut season, ahead of Super Rugby Aupiki beginning in late February.

That means she will be out of contention for two sevens tournaments, in Vancouver and Hong Kong, before linking back up with the Black Ferns Sevens ahead of their last tournament in Toulouse.

"There's been a lot of conversations back and forward with the sevens coaches, but they support my decision as much as they can," she said.

So far, Willison is the only Black Ferns sevens player to sign a Super Rugby Aupiki contract.

Sarah Hirini, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Portia Woodman, Stacey Fluhler, Kelly Brazier and Tyla Nathan-Wong - who all played Super Rugby Aupiki last year - have returned to sevens duties, while Ruby Tui is yet to confirm her future.

A former Hamilton Girls' High School student, Willison will be back under the leadership of her high school coach Crystal Kaua, who led the school to success in rugby, sevens and touch.

Kaua was assistant coach last year when the Chiefs won the inaugural Aupiki title. This year she takes the head coaching reins from Allan Bunting and in doing so, becomes the first female Super Rugby head coach in New Zealand (alongside Victoria Grant, named head coach for Hurricanes).

"Crystal and (her husband) Brent both coached Hamilton Girls' when I was Year 9 to Year 13. The opportunities they gave us obviously led to bigger things for a lot of us girls from the school, so we appreciate the mahi they've done for us" Willison said.

The last time Willison played the 15s format was in 2021, suiting up for Waikato when they defeated Canterbury in the Farah Palmer Cup final.

"(Sevens and 15s) are totally different sports now, and different teams too. The game itself has evolved, as we saw with the Rugby World Cup last year. It will be a bit different to have new faces around, but I love and value connection so I'm excited to connect with new people," she said.

Willison was one of four Chief Manawa signings announced today.

New Zealand rugby league representatives Abigail Roache and Apii Nicholls-Pualau were also named, as well as the re-signing of Harono Te Iringa.

They join the squad as replacement players for Renee Wickliffe (retiring), Pia Tapsell (ACL injury), Chelsea Semple (maternity leave) and Merania Paraone (playing overseas).


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