Above: Wellington Pride fullback and now fulltime New Zealand Sevens player Kat Simpkins recently presenting medals at the Wellington Secondary Schools Division 2 Finals at Te Whaea
The Women's NPC kicked off last weekend, but a first choice player who will be missing from the Wellington Pride's line-up when they host the Otago Spirit in their first home game this Saturday at the Petone Recreation Ground is the side's regular fullback from recent seasons, Kat Simpkins.
Instead, Wellington's only New Zealand Sevens contracted player, Simpkins, has her sights set on the upcoming second Women's World Cup Sevens series and possibly a berth in the 2016 Olympic Games squad.
For the first time, Sevens players aren't playing in the Women's NPC competition, giving players like Simpkins the time to concentrate on honing their fitness and skills for the shorter game.
"My main focus is on Sevens rugby," Simpkins said this week, "?My personal goals for now are to continue improving on my own individual work-ons for sevens and hopefully I can get the opportunity to keep representing New Zealand".
The six-leg 2014-15 Women's World Series kicks off in Dubai on 4 and 5 December, with further tournaments in Brazil in February, the USA in March, Canada in April and England and the Netherlands in May.
She says that between now and the start of the series there's several camps coming up, starting with a week-long camp in Tauranga from 4 September.
Of note, this week the English Rugby Union awarded 20 Sevens contracts to women's players. The group, including 12 players that recently won the Women's Fifteens World Cup, will be funded to train fulltime at Twickenham and south of London in Guildford, starting in September.
Simpkins has already achieved more than most sports people on the international stage, having represented New Zealand and New Zealand Maori teams in rugby league, fifteens rugby - and now Sevens rugby.
After first playing fifteens rugby for the Black Ferns in 2011 in England,? Simpkins made her debut for the New Zealand Sevens team earlier this year in May in China.
She was also selected to go away to Amsterdam, which was the final leg of the series that saw New Zealand clinch the second Women's World Cup title. "We finished the season on a high with our 29-12 win over Australia," she explained, adding what it meant to her to represent New Zealand again: "There are many highlights being in the NZ Sevens team, but for me it's when I get the opportunity to put on that black jersey to battle it out and represent for my family and my nation."
?"It really is the best feeling when I am out there in that black and white strip knowing that all the hours, days, months and years of hard work and sacrifices that I put in to improving my craft are for that time and moment when I have that Jersey on."
She first represented New Zealand in rugby league in 2008, playing in the Kiwi Ferns side that beat Australia at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane to lift the Women's Rugby League World Cup. This was followed by stints in the New Zealand Maori Rugby Sevens team in 2008/09, the Black Ferns in 2011 and the New Zealand Maori League Rugby League side in 2012.
Simpkins is Hutt Valley born and bred, moved to Rotorua when she was young for a time, but returned to attend Naenae and Wainuiomata Colleges.
Aligned to the Avalon club, the fullback said she was "in the mix" for the Wellington Pride at about aged 14 and was in Wellington's team that won the Women's NPC in 2006.
"The current pathway for young players has improved from when I first started playing," she explained. "However I think we still need a lot more support with the sport in terms of quality coaches and key people driving women's rugby."
For inspiration, she said that she has always looked up to her oldest brother Hohepa who has taught her the reward in hard work. "He's a hard trainer and he's shown me to do just that. His words of encouragement may not have been the nicest but I always understood where he was coming from."
What advice does she have for young players coming through the system aspiring for the top level?
"Feel the fear and do it anyway!" And to always work hard - "practice?makes perfect."
For more information on Kat Simpkins and to follow her career over the coming months and more visit her Facebook Page???