- By Adam Julian
- Photos by David Brownlie
Wellington Pride openside flanker Sinead To’oala-Ryder burst on to the rugby scene in 2017 and has been a regular part of Wellington Pride match-day squads ever since.
With a general background in several sports such as volleyball, basketball, touch, flag and hockey, To’oala-Ryder started playing rugby seriously in 2017 and was hooked from the start when she joined Marist St Pat’s.
“I wanted to pick a sport that would challenge me, and rugby was up on that list, along with rugby league,” she enthused.
“The vibe and the culture at MSP was really welcoming and I fell in love with the game straightaway and thought this is was what I want to commit to.”
She was originally put in the backs having had some experience on the wing at College. She was soon introduced to openside flanker by MSP coach Lucky Tuiatua. The contact and offloading part of the game appealed.
As well as the physical aspect of forward play she quickly gained admirers for her intuitive style around the park with the backs and being a genuine link player.
After making her mark in club rugby, To’oala-Ryder first made the Wellington Pride later in 2017.
“Bondy [Ross Bond] was our coach then and he was a bit of a character. Coming into that environment, everyone was welcoming, just as they had been at my club.”
Except for one player.
“The first time I met my captain Jackie Patea-Fereti I didn’t like her!
“It was kind of like no filter with her. There was one point where she yelled at me on the field, and I was thinking to myself then that I don’t like her. But ever since we have become close mates and kind of like sisters, and there’s always a lot of banter between us.”
At what point did this happen with Patea-Fereti?
“Oh, after a couple of games! Then at our end of year function we were socialising, and we got to know each other, and we have been tight ever since.
“I was also helped into the Pride side by [Old Boys University flanker] Gina Williamson, who was playing the same position as me and she was lovely and took me under her wing and taught me more about the position.”
To’oala-Ryder has now played 28 games for the Pride since her debut against Manawatu.
In 2018 she helped Wellington win the Championship. They scored a record number of points (449) and tries (69). They beat Otago 57-5 in the championship final and Premiership Winners Canterbury (43-38) in a cross over fixture. Canterbury have won 30 of 31 games since that fixture. Personally better was to come for To’oala-Ryder in 2019.
“I feel like 2019 was my prime-time as a player, I got a lot of tips from former Black Ferns openside flanker Les Elder and assistant coach Wesley Clarke.
“I felt like I had command of my position, such as how to be there at the right time and know when to step up during games.”
She said being approached by Wesley was also a boost to her game.
“It gave me an indication that oh my gosh am I doing something right, do I look like I am doing my job? I am a fan girl big time and I show it with actions, so when I was involved with he Black Ferns camp I made sure to take in every tip and coaching instruction. I loved it so much.”
What has been her favourite game for the Pride so far?
“It is always any game against Canterbury. I always feel like I play the best I can against them.”
To’oala-Ryder swapped clubs from MSP to Oriental-Rongotai at the start of 2019, and soon struck title success with them.
“So the reason I switched to Ories was because my partner Paulo Aukuso was there, so I was able to play for the same club as him.
Midfielder Aukuso has donned the Ories Premier jersey over 200 games and is a stalwart of the Magpies.
Who is the better player in the relationship?
“We talk about that all the time. I would say it’s me of course. He is the better 12 but if he were to play in my position he would get found out!”
“When I joined Ories from MSP I got the same vibe. Everyone was so welcoming. Plus there were a lot of experienced players there like Amanda Rasch and Fa’asua Makisi, and they showed a lot of leadership and maturity and were good role models for me and my game too.”
Ories also have two current Black Ferns, Joanah Ngan-Woo and Ayesha Leti-L’iga. She puts that experience and leadership on the field down as a key reason why Ories have had so much success in recent years.
To’oala-Ryder has played 27 club matches for Ories since 2019, after making 14 appearances for MSP in her first two years in Wellington club rugby. She has won two Wellington titles. Ories won 94 of 105 matches between 2014 and 2021.
Her passion and commitment for sport is not entirely self-driven. Her parents are accomplished athletes.
“My mum used to play for the Kiwi Ferns [rugby league side] and dad used to play rugby league and rugby for the Western Suburbs club. They are both quite loud and competitive, so I guess that is where I get that from too.”
This coming Saturday the Pride come off their bye to play the Manawatu Cyclones in Palmerston North on Saturday afternoon.
How does she think the Pride (1-2) are tracking this year?
“We have a good young team with a lot of new hungry, fit players. The mix between those young players and the senior players is good. I feel like this group could be a real force to be reckoned with going forward.
“Looking at this weekend, Manawatu is a fast, fit team, and they will be looking to push us out wide and, on the edge, so it is going to be a close game.”
During the week, To’oala-Ryder works at the Ministry of Social Development as a Work and Income case manager.
Wellington Pride v Manawatu Cyclones, Palmerston North, Saturday 2.05pm.