September 27 2023

Tanaia-Aroha Herniman and Maia Crutcher featured in the inaugural U19 Ahi Kā Aotearoa team, who competed in the Harvey Norman Women’s Championship in the Gold Coast earlier this year. Now, the girls are preparing to move to Sydney together in the coming months, having signed on with the Manly Sea Eagles for their 2024 U19 Tarsha Gale Cup squad.

The Ahi Kā Aotearoa representative team Tanaia and Maia were part of comprised U19 players who participated in the ‘RISE’ Talent Development Programme, delivered in partnership with the NRL. The programme aims to better prepare young players for the rigours of high-performance environments such as the NRLW, targeting female players aged 17-19.

With the Ahi Kā team, Tanaia and Maia faced the First Nation’s Gems, QLD Ruby’s, NSW Country Women, and South Australia in the Championship. The Harvey Norman Women’s National Championship is an elite pathways tournament allowing players across Australia and now New Zealand to showcase their skills in the representative arena. “There’s a lot more opportunities for us as girls to get out there”, shared Tanaia.

Tanaia hails from Whangaparaoa, while Maia proudly comes from Whakapara, north of Whāngarei. Maia was part of the Northern Swords Wāhine Squad for the 2022 National Women’s North Island Championship. The 18-year-old has come up through the grades for the last three seasons at the Hibiscus Coast Raiders, and previously participated in NZ Māori Rugby League kōtiro tournaments. “The game has definitely grown ever since I first started playing, it’s good to see”, she reflected. Having previously played rugby union for Whangaparaoa College, Tanaia made the code switch to league and although only in her second year of playing she has already made a name for herself to earn sought-after recognition and opportunities.

As newcomers competing in their first National Girls Youth Tournament, Maia and Tanaia featured in the squad of 2022 champions and 2023 finalists, the Akarana Falcons. The girls earned selection for the Falcons after stellar seasons for the Hibiscus Coast Raiders in the Auckland Rugby League 18s competition this year. The pair shared much anticipation for the next step in their rugby league journey, which takes them to join the Manly Sea Eagles for the 2024 NSWRL U19 Tarsha Gale Cup season. As she now prepares to make the move to Sydney with her teammate and friend, Tanaia shared, “We’re super excited to be able to have this opportunity.”

“It’s a massive opportunity; we’re super humble and truly grateful,” said Maia.