Payton Takimoana has had rugby on her mind from a young age.
“I have known about rugby ever since I can remember and I have been playing since I was five,” she said.
“Ever since I put my hands on that ball, I fell in love with the game.”
Four years ago, at the start of year 10, Payton moved down from Waihi to Mount Maunganui College seeking greater opportunities in sport and education.
“I moved here for a year without my family and stayed with family friends, but then my family moved here as well.
“It has been the best move ever, there have been so many opportunities here.”
Last week one of those opportunities opened up for Payton when she was named as the youngest member of the Bay of Plenty Volcanix squad for the Women’s NPC Farah Palmer Cup competition, which starts this weekend.
Payton, 17, is the only school student selected for BoP in 2021, but she is far from overawed by her selection and possible FPC debut in the coming weeks.
Up to a dozen of her Mount Maunganui Marlins club rugby team teammates are also her provincial teammates.
“All these players have helped me improve a lot and being around and learning off the best players has been so good for me.”
She also regularly trains at the nearby Adams High Performance Centre – home of the Black Ferns Men’s and Women’s Sevens training squads.
“I have been training with the BoP players about five times a week." This also includes rubbing shoulders with the Black Ferns players. “I am close friends with some of them, so I know them well.”
A few weeks ago, Payton was part of the Marlins team that won a thrilling 2021 BoP Women's Premier club rugby final, beating Rangiuru 25-24 with a last-gasp winning penalty after conceding a 79th minute try. This was Payton’s club’s maiden club rugby title in her second season in the team.
Payton played second five-eighth that day, but that is not her usual position. “I played at 12, but I had been playing first-five throughout the season and also last year.”
Following the final, she was picked in a wider BoP Women’s initial wider squad and has already played two pre-season games. They beat Hawke’s Bay 29-17 and lost to Counties Manukau 5-12. “That was a definite step up for me– I found it more aggressive and faster than club rugby, but I loved it.”
In those games she played variously at fullback, wing and first-five – so her versatility and utility value as a fresh face in the backs is a strength.
Last week she was waiting for the selection announcement by her phone. “I was checking social media every couple of minutes and when I saw my name I was happy!”
She also plays rugby for her school team, who play every Monday in a Baywide competition. “But we only play 10-a-side rugby because we don’t have enough girls players."
That may change in the future now that Payton is showing the way for the younger sports girls coming through.
She plays sevens rugby, but her school hasn’t been able to muster a side to attend the Condor 7s tournament in her time there.
“But last year I made the New Zealand Maori U18 sevens team who played in the World Schools Sevens tournament that was played a week after Condors. I have also just the New Zealand Maori U18 15-a-side camp, which is coming up later this month in Rotorua.”
She has also represented BoP in U16s and U18s sevens and a highlight was playing a touring Japanese side.
She also has a background in other sports, having played netball when young and more recently basketball, although this year her sole focus is on rugby. A recent school and age-grade representative basketball teammate has been Melika Samia who recently made the selection camp for the New Zealand Tall Ferns as the only school player to do so.
In the summer she used to do athletics in Waihi and plays touch “I play in whanau teams on Wednesday and Thursday nights, it is mostly social touch, but I used to play for Thames Valley touch up in Paeroa.”
As well as all the talented rugby players and sportspeople Payton regularly rubs shoulders with, another key influence on her is her father.
“Definitely my dad. He used to play rugby in Waihi and I have always looked up to him and he was a major reason why I started playing when I was young."
She also thanks her teachers at school for helping her get to where she is.
On the subject of school and the future, her obvious goal is to see how far her rugby career can go. “But on top that I may go to Toi Ohomai and look to do a sport and recreation course.
“And to work up to trying to make the Black Ferns team – that has been my goal for so many years.
In the meantime, a possible Farah Palmer Cup debut beckons for Payton.
The Volcanix open their season and the competition this Saturday afternoon against Auckland at Eden Park, followed by matches over the following several weeks against Counties Manukau (away), Waikato (home), Canterbury (away), Otago (home) and Wellington (home).
Interview and story by Steven White, for College Sport Media. July 2021. Photos by Rick Moran/BoP Rugby.
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