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Juggling act . . Shelby Johnston has had a busy year, playing for both the Waitaki Wahine and the Waitaki Girls' High School and St Kevin's College combined rugby team. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

September is Women in Rugby month – and there are plenty of Waitaki women dedicated to developing the sport in the district. Kayla Hodge chats with up-and-coming player Shelby Johnston, who made her debut for the Waitaki Wahine this year.

Shelby Johnston’s life revolves around rugby.

That tends to happen when you are playing for two different teams in one season.

The Waitaki Girls’ High School pupil played for the combined Waitaki Girls’ and St Kevin’s College team, and made her debut for the Waitaki Wahine club this year.

Shelby (17) opted to join the Wahine after previously playing alongside Wahine captain and Otago Spirit player Cheyenne Cunningham, when she was at Waitaki Girls’.

“I just thought it would be a good way to [gain] some experience [and learn] from them,” Shelby said.

The fullback and centre had plenty of pace and made an impact in her first club season. She was rewarded for her efforts and was named the club’s most improved player.

Making the step up provided an opportunity to test herself, and find a pathway in the sport, she said.

“I enjoyed playing at that higher level, and just with the older girls. It’s showed me how I can keep playing outside of high school.”

Maintaining her skills at a secondary school level had been important too, and she continued to play for the combined Waitaki Girls’ and St Kevin’s team.

Being involved in two teams meant extra rugby training and an additional game each week, but Johnston loved any opportunity to be involved in the game.

“It kept me quite busy. It was all really enjoyable. I learnt lots of skills.”

Shelby started playing rugby when she was 7, at Maheno Rugby Club. Shelby and her sister, Briar, were the only girls in the team, but that never fazed them, she said.

She took a break from rugby at intermediate, but returned to the sport at high school, when Waitaki Girls’ and St Kevin’s had a team each.

In year 11, Waitaki Girls’ and St Kevin’s joined forces due to a lack of numbers, and Shelby continued to play.

“It’s the physicality, and intensity, and just with it being a team sport, it’s really enjoyable playing with all the girls.

While she was still deciding on a career after school, Shelby planned to stay in Oamaru, continue playing for the Waitaki Wahine and try to make the Otago Spirit.