Cheyenne Cunningham does not shy away from a challenge. The Waitaki Wahine captain, who became the first person to play 50 games for the club, talks to Kayla Hodge about her journey.
Name any position on the rugby field and Cheyenne Cunningham has probably played it.
At 15 years old, she packed down at prop for her debut for the North Otago women’s rugby team, and before long she was suiting up at lock.
Being a forward was never her intention – she was just thrown in to help make up numbers, and soon enough, she was given the opportunity to move out wide.
“I was always going to be a back … then I was a halfback, then I was 10, 12, centre, fullback, wing – you name it,” Cunningham said.
It is no wonder six years on, she has become the first player to reach 50 caps for the Waitaki Wahine.
Cunningham (21) reached the milestone playing at home against Pirates last month, and admitted she had no idea it was her half-century.
The team decorated the changing and clubrooms while she was warming up, but she accidentally ruined the surprise for herself.
“I went back into the rooms before [the game], and I turned around and there were posters saying ‘Cheyenne’s 50th game’, and then the clubrooms were all done up with balloons.
“I didn’t really know it was coming. It’s a pretty exciting achievement to reach.”
Cunningham has witnessed many changes throughout the years, from the club’s name change to the Waitaki Wahine to plenty of new players coming and going.
About four years ago, the Waitaki Wahine drew with Dunedin powerhouses Otago University and Pirates within two weeks. Two years later, the team made the semifinals.
“That’s pretty good; they’ve been pretty big things for this team,” she said.
She took over captaincy of the Wahine two seasons ago, and took on a “bigger role” playing at first five-eighth this season.
The side was tracking well, putting out some strong performances, and Cunningham was proud of her team.
“Every week we’ve improved, definitely.
“It’s just getting everyone to trainings so they know what they’re doing on and off the field.”
Her performances with the Wahine saw her elevated to the Otago Spirit four years ago.
She played at fullback – her preferred position – and relished the opportunities presented to her being in the Farrah Palmer Cup.
“You learn so much, the coaches are really knowledgeable.
“They know what they’re doing, and they teach you heaps at training.”
Cunningham took up rugby at a young age, following in the footsteps of her brothers Logan and Joel because she “wanted to fight them all the time”.
She played in Valley’s boys teams, before joining a Waitaki Girls’ High School team and then the North Otago side when she was in year 11.
The physicality and the relationships of the game were what kept her going.
“It’s good fun – who doesn’t love scoring some meat pies?
“It’s quite good, you get to know so many people, meet heaps for new friends and it’s just awesome.”
Cunningham – who works on a sheep and beef farm near Kurow – always dreamed of being a Black Fern, and that was her next step after the Otago squad, she said.
But for now, she would continue playing her part for the Wahine.
She planned to reach 100 games for the women’s rugby club.