Cassie Siataga leading the way for Tasman
Cassie Siataga landed the biggest kick of her career in June when she slotted a last-play penalty to win Manusina the Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship final against Fiji on the Gold Coast.
In fading light and horizontal rain, Manusina was down 16-18 when Fijiana outside back Ana Naimasi kicked it into touch, mistakenly believing that time was up.
Referee Ella Goldsmith subsequently signalled for the lineout to be taken, from which Manusina won a penalty and Siataga, who scored all her side’s 19 points, sent it through the uprights to trigger jubilant scenes on the pitch and in the stands at Bond University.
The win secured Samoa their first Oceania title and a place in the WXV 2 tournament in Cape Town in October. Fijiana, who beat South Africa at the World Cup, is regulated to WXV 3.
Siataga struggles to recall the specifics of her kick, but had a late friend and mentor front of mind when she placed the ball on the tee.
“I’m still pinching myself about that kick, to be honest,” Siataga said.
“All I remember is white noise and the voice of Billy Guyton in my head, ‘head down,’ ‘follow through.’ Billy had a lot to do with my kicking and that one was a career highlight.”
Billy Guyton was a halfback who helped the Tasman men’s team win two NPC Premierships in 2019 and 2020. More recently he was assistant coach of the Mako women and active in the female player development area. Tragically Guyton died in May aged only 33.
“Billy taught me there was more to life than rugby than what happens on the field. He helped me appreciate the beauty of all the things that happen off the field and was so pivotal in the development of many of our younger players. Watching the likes of Chloe Dixon and Lesieli Taufa go from strength to strength has been one of the highlights of my time with Tasman,” Siataga said.
Siataga grew accustomed to success while with Canterbury. The first five-eighth played 29 games and won four Farah Palmer Cup (FPC) Premierships between 2017 and 2020.
In 2021 she exited the FPC because of “burnout.”
“That was nothing to do with Canterbury,” Siataga said.
“Sport had dominated my life up to that point and I needed a break. Four years before Canterbury, I’d been living in Texas on a softball scholarship. That was the biggest culture shock of my life.”
Siataga represented New Zealand as a shortstop or pitcher in softball and was part of the Junior White Sox team that was fourth at the Junior World Championships in Canada in 2013. Her scholarship at Midland College was in a Republican state when Donald Trump became President in 2016.
In 2022, while in the familiar terrain of the Linwood rugby club, Siataga rediscovered the fire for the oval ball. She was persuaded by her teammate, and present Manusina captain, Sui Pauaraisa to join Tasman.
“I liked the nurturing environment straight away. Billy Guyton was very involved, and Mel Bossman is a legend of the women’s game. We had our struggles, but it felt like we were building all the time. It’s the same feeling this season,” Siataga said.
Tasman won two matches in 2022 following a dozen consecutive defeats in the previous two seasons. Siataga was named player of the year.
The Mako have already matched their win tally three games into the 2023 FPC championship. A narrow loss to Otago (28-34) has been followed by victories against North Harbour (26-21) and Taranaki (61-10).
Against North Harbour, Tasman was down 0-21 but rallied to win with four tries in the last 30 minutes. Siataga delivered the winning pass to Lesieli Taufa with the final play of the match.
Last Friday, Tasman scored 11 tries in a demolition of Taranaki in New Plymouth. Precious Auimatagi, Fiaalii Solomona, and Iva Sauira all scored three each. There are four Linwood players in the Tasman team. Last week former All Blacks captain and Lindwood legend Tane Norton passed.
“Tane and Fergie McCormack presented me with a lot of my prizes at Lindwood. They were both big supporters of the women’s game. Tane had this obvious mana about him so there was a lot of motivation to play for him and what he represented,” Siataga said.
“It’s a shame Otago couldn’t go up to the Premiership with Hawke’s Bay I feel like Otago is good enough to be there so to push them like we did was encouraging.”
Unbeaten Manawatū awaits this weekend. The Cyclones have scored 175 points in three matches.
“Manawatū is another side that you feel like could compete in the Premiership. They’ve got a strong loose forward trio and some really dangerous backs.
“We’ve got a bigger forward pack with a lot of strong carriers this year. That helps us set a better platform for when we go wide. We have to work on our work on’s but I feel like when we stick to the game plan, we can compete with anyone.”
Born and raised in Christchurch with roots in Tanugamanono and Magiagi, Siataga was coached by All Blacks forward guru Mike Cron at primary school.