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Determination . . . Grace Brooker, with ball in hand, charges to the try line in a match against Hanan Shield at the South Island tournament which Canterbury won. PHOTO: TONY BRUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

 

By ROBYN BRISTOW

A young North Canterbury rugby player is making a big impact in women’s rugby in Canterbury.

Grace Brooker, who began playing rugby at the tender age of four for Oxford, is back playing in the red and black hoops at age 17, this time for the Canterbury women’s team.

She played her debut game against Manawatu, followed up by a semi-final against Waikato last Saturday.

Grace played two outstanding games, scoring two tries in the 42-10 drubbing of Manawatu a fortnight ago and was again among the points when Canterbury stamped its authority in the semi-final.

She scored two tries in the 60-26 win which booked Canterbury a final in Auckland this Saturday against Counties Manukau.

It has been a busy year for the 17-year-old Christchurch Girl’s High School student.

This week she learnt she has been selected in the New Zealand Sevens under 18 team after a training regime which began in May in preparation for the trials.

Grace turned out to training at 6am two times a week and 6pm on Mondays, in a bid to make the team.

She has also been a member of the Canterbury secondary schools representative team for four years, playing alongside her sister Millie in 2015 and winning the tournament, a year in which Millie was selected in the tournament team after playing an amazing final.

In 2016 Canterbury also won the tournament and this time it was Grace’s turn to make the tournament team.

In spite of her busy schedule Grace has also been committed to her Christchurch Old Boys Club topping off a successful season by winning the club’s women’s team award, the team players most improved player, and the most promising under 19 player across the club. To round off a successful club awards night Grace was awarded the overall senior player of the year.

She is now focused on establishing an under 16 North Canterbury women’s team and to add to an already busy schedule she has offered to help coach a women’s’ team which they are trying to establish for the 2018 season.

There is no competition for North Canterbury girls once they get to under 14s age group and are no longer allowed to play mixed rugby as they can not play senior women’s rugby until they are 18.

Grace began her playing days at Oxford and continued when the family moved to Hawarden in 2009, playing alongside the boys for the Hurunui Club. She ended her association with Hurunui in the under 14.5 division.

During this time family was never far from her side with her teams coached by her uncle, mother, father and others when needed.

In year 8, 2012, Grace travelled to Christchurch on Friday afternoons for a 7s competition, not realising it was for secondary school aged children.

However, the organisers quickly realised Grace was not out of her depth and asked her to join the tournament every week for the whole of the fourth term.

Grace went straight in the 1st XV when she started Christchurch Girls’ High School in 2013, combining it with several other sports at the school.

In 2014 she started playing club rugby for Christchurch Old Boys and in 2015 when the CGHS touch team missed the opportunity to go to the nationals, Grace along with a fellow team member – Rosie – went to the powers that be armed with a team list and a coach, requesting to enter a 7s team in the local competition.

The school could hardly deny their request, with Grace finding herself once again, alongside her sister Millie playing in the Friday afternoon competition – a regional competition for the Condor 7s final held annually in Auckland in December.

Christchurch Girls won the regionals in 2015 and headed to Auckland, finishing an amazing fifth place.

They also won the right to head to Auckland in 2016, finishing sixth with Grace being selected in the tournament team.

Unfortunately she missed playing in the tournament team/New Zealand team, as other girls from throughout the North Island were brought into the team.

At the end of last year Grace was selected in the Canterbury women’s 7s team to play in the National competition where she performed very well, being jointly selected as one of the outstanding players in the Canterbury team.

She has also enjoyed success with school rugby with her team winning four of the last five finals Christchurch Girls has competed in,

The closest rival over the past three years has been the Forward Foundation team made up of girls that want to play rugby at secondary school age but don’t have enough at their own school to make up a full team.

Winning against them has therefore been a huge effort by CGHS, as the school was virtually up against a school representative team.

Outside sport Grace is a prefect at Acland house – the boarding house for CGHS – and is deputy head girl at the school. She works for the Waimakariri District Council as a life guard at Oxford pool during the summer and for the Canterbury Rugby Union for home games for Canterbury and the Crusaders.