“We’re so strong not just physically but mentally, so eager and fierce.”
That’s how Manu Sina captain Masuisuimatamaalii (Sui) Pauaraisa, 31, describes Samoan women.
She’s one of five Samoan women to recently captain nations ranked in the top 13 of women’s rugby.
Pauaraisa said that’s a really cool thing.
“There’s just something about Samoan women.
“Our girls can all be great leaders, they just need that support.”
She said being that leader is about stepping up for others, and being someone that will inspire someone else.
“It’s all about our upbringing.”
Masuisuimatamaalii Pauaraisa was raised by her grandparents in Foailalo on Savai’i.
Pauaraisa’s biological parents weren’t together at the time of her birth, and she met her father for the first time five years ago, before he passed away two years later.
She played rugby for the first time at primary school here in Samoa.
“Girls’ rugby had only just started back then,” she said.
Pauaraisa played a few local games for her school, including a trip to Apia for a match.
But she said it was hard to get into the sport.
“Samoan parents think it’s a male game.
“They want you to focus on the woman’s side of things; doing washing, or looking after the kids.”
A star student as well, Pauaraisa was encouraged to put her education first.
“I used to sneak out with boys to play sport,” she said.
Her grandfather died when she was 13, and the family moved to Auckland, New Zealand.
Pauaraisa said kids in New Zealand have opportunities she didn’t growing up in Samoa.
“Everyone starts so much earlier.”
Pauaraisa played a bit of volleyball at high school, and some casual sport through her church.
While her family were still mostly against the idea of Sui playing sport, a season playing rugby in her last year at Tangaroa College sparked something.
“Once you have that passion you can’t stop.”
That passion would only blossom after Pauaraisa moved to Christchurch in 2010.
In the preceding years she spent time studying, and looking after daughters Pine and Paia as a stay-at-home mum.
But that itch to play rugby needed scratching.
Pauaraisa approached local clubs in Christchurch about playing, initially looking at sport as a fun way to lose a bit of weight.
Soon enough, she was representing Canterbury in the Farah Palmer Cup, the highest level of domestic women’s rugby in New Zealand.
“I used to get only five minutes a game off the bench,” Pauaraisa said.
“But I learned so much from that first year.”
She went to trial for the Manu Sina 7s in Wellington, then Auckland out of her own pocket in 2016.
They were putting together a squad to contest the Olympic qualifying repechage tournament in Dublin, Ireland.
Having made the squad, Pauaraisa and the rest of the team spent time in Samoa before the tournament.
That was the first time she had been back to Samoa since leaving as a 13 year old.
“I rekindled my relationship with my mum then,” she said.
“It’s so unreal, even now.”
After that unsuccessful tournament in Ireland, Pauaraisa tried her hand at rugby league.
She and her club teammates decided to put together a league side to play in the local Christchurch competition.
After a club season in 2016 balancing both codes, with trainings and games almost every day of the week, Pauaraisa was named to represent Canterbury in rugby league as well as union.
However because the two provincial competitions took place at the same time, she couldn’t play league for Canterbury until the following year.
It was a stellar debut campaign for Pauaraisa, which saw her named a non-travelling reserve in the Kiwi Ferns Rugby League World Cup squad.
“I couldn’t believe it, like what!” she said.
The 2017 Oceania 7s were being played at the same time, and Pauaraisa again came over to Samoa to be a part of the Manu Sina 7s squad.
Coach Aveau Niko Palamo named her captain of that side, something she “didn’t see coming either.”
The next year was perhaps the most momentous in her career to date.
Pauaraisa came to Samoa with Auckland Samoa Marist to play in the Marist International Sevens last February, with Auckland winning the tournament.
She returned in May for the Samoa Independence International Sevens Tournament, where she played for second-placed club Apia Maroons.
Due to return to New Zealand earlier in the week, Pauaraisa ended up stuck in Samoa a few extra days after her bags were stolen from her hotel.
“I was just glad they left us alone,” she said.
This meant Pauaraisa barely made it back to New Zealand in time for the rugby league nationals that weekend.
However it couldn’t have impacted on her play too much as she was picked for the New Zealand Warriors side for the inaugural NRL Women’s Premiership.
Playing for the Auckland-based side meant getting to trainings was going to be a tall order.
Pauaraisa would start work at 6am - she works as a clinical administrator at Christchurch Hospital, as well as interpreting for Samoan patients with limited English.
After finishing up at 2pm, she would head to the airport for a 3pm flight to Auckland, and then go straight to training.
Sleeping at her aunty’s overnight, in the morning she’d fly back down to Christchurch to do it all again.
Pauaraisa said surviving that gruelling process was more about mentality than anything.
“I love my work, but being at the computer all the time kinda kills my brain.
“Rugby and training give me that energy boost I need.”
But the greatest boost she gets is from her daughters.
Pauaraisa said she’s a really driven person, but it’s not about becoming some famous rugby player.
“It’s what i’ve been through, growing up in Samoa without parents around.
“I want my girls to be successful, so I’m hopefully giving them someone to look up to.”
Her 10-year-old daughter is now playing league at Pauaraisa’s Linwood Keas club.
“When they say they wanna be just like me, that’s special,” she said.
Last year concluded with another special moment; the Manu Sina 15s second-place finish at the Oceania Rugby Championships.
Pauaraisa captained that side, an inexperienced group playing the first games for Samoa women’s rugby in four years.
She said most of the girls had just met three days before the tournament.
“I think we won the hearts of Samoa last year.”
She said the players all had to make sacrifices, leaving work and family behind to compete over in the Fiji tournament.
While Pauaraisa said it’s not all about the money and getting paid to play, she would like the Manu Sina to have equality with the men’s sides.
“Even the resources the Black Ferns get, if we got that we’d be a threat to the best in the world.”
New Zealand Rugby awarded the first ever contracts to it’s women’s 15 a-side national team last year, with 30 players earning between NZ$40,000-45,000.
Pauaraisa feels sorry for the up-and-coming girls in Samoa because there are limited resources for them.
“Even like playing with a ball with no grip, but they love the sport,” she said.
“There’s so much talent, but no one supports the woman’s side.”
Pauaraisa said these sorts of things keep her up at night, and she’d love to work for the Samoan Rugby Union in a women’s development role one day.
“Rugby is really big in my head, especially for the girls in Samoa, I wanna help them out.”
But the 31 year old has no plans to hang up the boots any time soon.
“My main goal now, is I’m praying the Manu Sina qualify for the World Cup,” she said.
The dual-international said it’s more special playing for Samoa than New Zealand.
“I’m a really proud Samoan, it’s in my heart and I love our culture.”
Pauaraisa said it’s about giving everything you try your all.
“I always play like it’s my last game.
“Rugby has given me everything, so I just keep humble and things will fall into place.”