- By Adam Julian
A month ago Tysha Ikenasio was working full time as a personal trainer and earnestly ploughing through her police application when she received a surprise phone call from Black Ferns Sevens coach Cory Sweeney.
“I was actually doing the dishes when my phone went off in my left pocket. I saw it was Cory and answered. He offered me a full-time contract. I was in such a shock I cut him off,” Ikenasio recalled.
“He had to ring back the next day to confirm the details. I hadn’t even played Sevens for a year because of Covid.”
Ikenasio has shifted from Auckland to the Black Ferns Sevens base in Mount Maunganui to commence full-time training. It’s a goal that’s taken her more than half a dozen years to realise.
Ikenasio attended Sancta Maria College. She was a two-time winner of the Senior School Sportswoman of the Year for her feats in netball, tag and touch. Her introduction to sevens happened in 2014 in her penultimate year of high school at the behest of Michael Marnewick [game development manager – schools]. It was modest.
“There was a one-day competition. We struggled for numbers. We wanted to play tag or touch but when we were promised a day off school at College Rifles we went, ‘why not.’
“I’d never played tackle before. Oh my gosh what did I sign up for? There were Auckland scouts out and they presented me with the most promising player award or something.”
Soon Tysha was training at Eden Park with the Auckland women’s team which included Black Ferns heavyweights Huriana Manuel, Kayla McAlister, Portia Woodman and Tyla Nathan-Wong. Her mother Robyn often slept in the car while Tysha trained early in the morning.
“Mum was so relieved when I got my licence. Oh my god, her sacrifices. My first actual sevens tournament was in Hokoria, Japan.”
Auckland won the Hokoria tournament and the 2015 New Zealand Nationals. Ikenasio, a skilful and robust outside back, was offered the chance to play professionally in Japan.
“I went over there when I was 18. The culture, the food, the people, wow, I love Japan. I spent two years playing for the Tokyo Phoenix and then I went to Ngato Blue Angels. Ngato is a little town down south. When I joined the team they were only new, but in my last year we won the competition.
“In Japan, sevens works like the World Series. There are four tournaments with points at stake for each event. It goes year-round with qualifying, training and a dozen teams.”
Covid brought Ikenasio home. With little opportunity in rugby, she played league for the Richmond Roses with one notable exception – the 2021 Takiwhitu Tuturu Sevens in Wellington.
“I got a call from Rocky Khan asking me to play for Moana Pasifika. What an opportunity. It was strange playing against the Black Ferns. I’d been in again and out again. It was good to have a decent crack at them.”
Each player in Moana Pasifika was given a mealofa (gift), designed and made especially for them, to honour their contribution to the team by Moana artist Iokapeta Magele-Suamasi.
Ikenasio flats with her good friend Niall Williams. Her immediate goal is to help New Zealand defend their Commonwealth Games gold medal in Birmingham in July, August.