Kahlia Awa: From Netball talent to Black Ferns prospect

Kahlia Awa

In the 65th minute, the Blues were down 5-18 when Awa scored a try. Moments later Awa got the Blues marching again with a dart and dash that put the Blues on attack.

A mighty Blues scrum resulted in a penalty. Awa tapped quickly as the Blues peppered again and eventually scored with Awa providing the last pass for Katelyn Vaha'akolo.  

“Honestly Tanya (Kalounivale) woke me up with that tackle. Watching on the sideline we were playing a lot of defence. I knew I had to pick the game up, get us on the front foot, play our game,” Awa reflected.

“With forwards, you have to demand them. They were patient and helped get KV and me over the line.”

Awa’s contribution came from the bench. In fact, she only started once in six games for the Blues, but her energy and effectiveness were so eye-catching the 19-year-old is one of 40 players awarded a Black Ferns contract in 2024.

“When I got the call, I was so happy. Coming off the bench with the Blues; it was a big surprise,” Awa said.

“I tried to take every opportunity I could, change things up when I got on the field.”

Her only start for the Blues was on May 9 in a 40-26 win over Chiefs Manawa. It was the Blues first win over the Chiefs since fixtures started in 2021. Awa opposed former Black Ferns captain and Rugby World Cup winner Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu who wasn’t contracted.

Black Ferns Director of Rugby Alan Bunting praised Awa’s “spatial awareness” and “competitive” nature. He described Awa’s display under pressure in the final as “outstanding,” but conceded it was a tough call leaving out Marino-Tauhinu whose “contribution to the black jersey has been massive.”

Awa will be hoping to leave a positive blueprint on the Black jersey. She abandoned a promising netball career to pursue rugby. The talented midcourter was good enough to make the New Zealand Secondary Schools team and earned trails with the Central Manawa, who are the feeder side for the Central Pulse franchise.

However, rugby’s grip goes back to her youth. In 2016 Kahlia, alongside her twin brothers Ezekiel and Zedekiah, competed in the Ross Shield for Hastings West. 

It was the first time in the 114-year history of the prestigious Hawke's Bay Primary Schools tournament that two brothers and one sister from the same family turned out in the same team at the event.

A year later Kahlia became the first female to captain a Ross Shield-winning team.

At Hastings Girls High School she was closely mentored by Deputy Principal Pastoral and former Black Ferns halfback Emma Jensen (49 Tests, 41 wins).

Awa debuted for the Hawke’s Bay Tui in 2022 and in ten appearances has helped the Tui win a Farah Palmer Cup championship and make the Premiership semifinals last year.

Awa was with Hurricanes Poua in 2023 but was persuaded to join the Blues by 2023 Black Ferns Player of the Year and schoolmate Liana Mikaele-Tu'u.

Krysten Cottrell is another Hawke’s Bay-based Black Fern. Cottrell was Aupiki’s top points scorer and Awa has played most of her first-class games with Cottrell at first-five-eighth.

“She’s huge to me, that nine and ten combination is special. I can play my own game and trust her to guide our forwards and backs. I would have loved her in this team but I’m looking forward to playing with all the others and growing in this environment,” Awa said.

*Melanie Puckett was the Blues regular starting halfback. She has played in every Blues Aupiki victory (8 since 2022). In 32 games (25 wins) for Canterbury and Auckland, Puckett has been part of four Farah Palmer Cup Premiership-winning teams.

Pacific Four Series Schedule (New Zealand times and dates listed)

Black Ferns v USA, Saturday 11 May, 2.05pm, FMG Stadium Waikato, HAMILTON
Black Ferns v Canada, Sunday 19 May, 4.35pm, Apollo Projects Stadium, CHRISTCHURCH
Black Ferns v Australia, Saturday 25 May, 2.05pm, North Harbour Stadium, AUCKLAND (O’Reilly Cup, presented by Ryman Healthcare). 

Click HERE for Pacific Four tickets.