New home ... Waitaki Wahine Cook Islands imports Daimzel Rongokea (left) and Charlize Tumu-Makara will live in Oamaru for the next five months. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

As the North Otago Rugby Union’s connection to the Cook Islands continues to grow, more players are taking up opportunities in Oamaru. This week, Kayla Hodge catches up with Daimzel Rongokea and Charlize Tumu-Makara, who have joined the Waitaki Wahine.

Daimzel Rongokea and Charlize Tumu-Makara always believed netball was their calling.

The pair met five years ago playing for the Cook Islands under-21 squad and had every intention of moving through the ranks with the sport.

That was until last year, when they picked up a rugby ball.

Immediately, they were hooked and played sevens at the Cook Island Games in November.

Rongokea (19), playing for Atiu, and Tumu-Makara (20), playing for Mitiaro, loved every minute of being on the field.

“I guess we just really enjoyed the comms, and the bond between the teammates, and then just carried on from there,” Rongokea said.

As they continued to play sevens, they also took up rugby league at the same time.

When North Otago put the call out for players to join the Waitaki Wahine, they each decided to try their hand at rugby union.

“We just took up the opportunity to see what it’s like over here on this side. It’s playing in a new environment, and getting to know new people.

“Netball was our sport – now it’s rugby.”

Three weeks ago, they landed in Oamaru, and two days later made their debut for the Waitaki Wahine against Otago University.

They both described it as a good experience, but said there were vast differences from the league rules they were used to.

The defensive lines were different, and it had been a big adjustment, Rongokea said.

However, they were cementing their places in the starting line-up.

Rongokea, a second five-eighth, uses her speed and agility to break through the line, and has already scored a raft of tries for the Wahine.

Tumu-Makara, a No8, is powerful off the back of the scrum and putting in the big hits.

They were loving the opportunity, and said the club had been incredibly welcoming.

“They’ve been welcoming – especially during trainings going through our plays and making sure we’re all on the same page as well,” Rongokea said.

In the Cook Islands, rugby was relatively new for women, and villages were slowly putting teams together to compete.

They wanted to use their opportunity in North Otago to absorb the knowledge, and take it home to teach the younger generation.

“Hopefully open up a pathway for them here as well,” Rongokea said.

Tumu-Makara said neither of them had been to Oamaru before – only Auckland in New Zealand – and despite the colder climate, they were loving what would be their home for the next five months.

Having a support system in fellow Excelsior Cook Islands imports Adyn Anguna and Mataroa Maui had been great.

“If it wasn’t for having some of the Cook Island boys coming down here as well, it would have been harder for us,” Tumu-Makara said.