Tui McGeorge, who plays for the Northland Kauri, can’t wait for the tournament to start so she can give something back to the sport that has given so much to her. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Northland has the highest rate of volunteering in New Zealand so when the call went out for volunteers to help out at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Whangārei, it was no surprise that organisers were inundated with people wanting to take part.
Now all the volunteering spots in Northland from 400 for the whole tournament are filled, and the volunteers are raring to go.
One of those volunteers is Tui McGeorge, who also plays for the Northland Kauri in the Farah Palmer Cup, and she can’t wait for the tournament to start so she can give something back to the sport that has given so much to her.
McGeorge was forced to mature very quickly as a young woman, becoming pregnant with her first child at 15 and mothering three children by the age of 21. She then lost her biggest supporter, her mother, to breast cancer, and then her brother suddenly.
Life as a young solo mum while also grieving was tough, and she began to lose touch with any sense of joy. After spiralling into the depths, she decided she wanted to be happy and made life-changing decisions including moving to Whangārei and joining a rugby club, then playing for the Northern Kauri.
It’s been a “pretty amazing” journey and McGeorge said she had no hesitation signing up to become a volunteer, to give something back to the sport that had helped her and to be involved in the World Cup by making sure others enjoyed it as much as they can.
“It’s just so cool for Whangārei to have the Rugby World Cup here. I play rugby myself and I just love the atmosphere and energy you get at a game. In fact I love everything about rugby, so it’s going to be good for others to experience these games and that atmosphere.”
She said there were so many young Northlanders who would get inspiration from watching the best female rugby players in the world in their own backyard, and hopefully the next generation of Black Ferns will be among the crowds at the Northland Events Centre for the games here.
“Having Northland players [such as Kauri captain] Krystal Murray and the legendary Portia Woodman in the Black Ferns squad for the World Cup shows that you can be from a small place in Northland and still make it onto the biggest stages in the world.”
McGeorge said like everybody she dreams of one day wearing the black jersey to represent her country, but that wasn’t to be this year so volunteering meant she would still experience all the action and excitement.
So what is she looking forward to the most about the tournament?
“Watching the rugby, and yes I will be watching while I work, but really just being able to make sure everybody gets to feel that energy and excitement is what it’s about for me. I’m just looking forward to being a small part of the event and helping out as best I can. This is the next best thing to playing in the games.”
McGeorge said the Black Ferns will be the team to beat, but she’s sure other countries will be out to spoil the home team’s party.
“There are a few others that will have that ‘watch out for us’ attitude that we will have to be wary of, but it’s the Black Ferns all the way,” she said.
“They will be such an inspiration to so many young girls out there, showing that if they want to they too can take that pathway.”
World Cup organisers said the volunteer uptake in Northland was amazing, both in terms of pure application numbers, and the level of engagement and interest in those who applied.
Lots of people mentioned that they want to show off Whangārei and Northland and were keen to take advantage of the opportunity, given there are not often major international events hosted locally. Many volunteers have previous experience from the 2011 men’s Rugby World Cup when it was held in New Zealand, including games in Whangārei.
The Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021 – postponed last year because of Covid-19 – will be hosted in Whangārei and Auckland between October 8 and November 12.
The tournament will feature four double- and triple-header match days at the Northland Events Centre throughout October, with the quarter-finals on October 29.
The first three matches will be played at the centre on October 9. The USA plays Italy, Japan faces Canada and Wales takes on Scotland.
Australia versus Scotland, the USA vs Japan and France vs England will be played on October 15 while the Wales vs Australia, Black Ferns vs Scotland and Fiji vs France games will he held on October 22. The quarter-finals will be a week later.
Tickets can be bought at tickets2021.rugbyworldcup.com.
■ Northland has the highest rate of volunteering in New Zealand. Around 37 per cent of the adult population volunteer for about four hours per week on average, according to Volunteering Northland.