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From Touch Rugby to Sevens Sensation: Manaia Nuku's Journey to the Top

From Touch Rugby to Sevens Sensation: Manaia Nuku's Journey to the Top

All BlacksMarch 7, 2024

Culture and kicking are two strategic priority areas for the Black Ferns Sevens.

Seasoned veterans have the loudest voice, shaping the tactical and spiritual direction, but younger players are expected to contribute.

Manaia Nuku is a growing presence. The 21-year-old from Tauranga explains her role.

“I'm a halfback or first receiver when I came on. My first job is to pass well or create an opportunity. 

“I'm a sub-kicker for both restarts and drops at goal. That's a big responsibility because you can't win the game without the ball and conversions often make a difference in close games.

“I'm also part of the culture group that deals with haka, waiata, and inclusion.

“I’m passionate about the Māori language. I went to a full immersion school and didn’t speak any English until I got to college. My brother is a Tomoko artist. In the the Black Ferns Sevens we have a couple of scrum and lineout moves in Te Reo.”

Her mother Gina is a schoolteacher, and Dad Wallace is a linesman. Her sister Te Whetumarama Nuku played for the Warriors in the WNRL.

At the Los Angeles Sevens, Tyla King became the leading points scorer in SVNS history. Her trademark restarts helped New Zealand win a plethora of possession and the Cup title. A week earlier in the Vancouver triumph, New Zealand scored tries with 32 of their 34 entries into the opposition's 22.  


“I'm so proud of Tyla. She's shown younger players that milestones can be achieved. She is a real legend and it's an honour to play with her.”

“I didn't choose to kick. I didn't know how to kick at all. It's a skill I've picked up and work on daily. It's about trusting my processes and increasing distance and accuracy.

“Brett Kaua (Husband of Cheis Manawa coach Crystal Kaua) was my first kicking coach. Stu Ross has been helping me out lately.”

Ross is the Black Ferns Sevens assistant coach. He has been involved in the program in various roles since 2013 and guided Manawatū to National women’s sevens titles.

Nuku was a winner at Hamilton Girls’ High School. She was in the First XV that won the National Top Four title in 2018 and 2019 as well as the Condor Sevens in 2017. She was even more successful in touch where Hamilton won National titles in 2016 and 2019.

When she was selected for the New Zealand Under 18 touch team to tour Malaysia, she couldn’t afford the travel costs. That’s when she realised she could get paid to travel by committing to rugby.

“I still love touch but there is no money in it. The biggest difference between touch and sevens was that I had to learn to tackle. Otherwise, there are a lot of transferable skills,” Nuku said.

After a standout campaign at the Ignite Sevens in 2020, she was contracted to the Black Ferns Sevens in 2021. She made her debut in Dubai in 2022 and scored her first try during the Cape Town Cup success a week later. New Zealand charged onto win the 2022-23 SVNS series and eventually had a 41-game unbeaten streak halted in Dubai last year.  

In eight tournaments Nuku has scored 37 points (3 tries and 11 goals).

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