Niall Williams-Guthrie and the interesting choice facing women’s rugby players
Analysis – Code-hopping is nothing new for the Williams family, with Niall Williams-Guthrie following in her brother’s footsteps this week by confirming her commitment to the Blues in 2024. Her brother, Sonny Bill, played for the side from 2017-19 and when asked. As for his response, Williams-Guthrie didn’t hold back.
“He said ‘stop copying me’. I said man, I’m not copying you… we’re going to win!”
It was a good line that got a good laugh from the large media contingent at Eden Park. William-Guthrie herself was surprised by the interest, but it is a good sign after what has been an up-and-down season for women’s rugby. Super Rugby Aupiki enjoyed an uninterrupted season and put on a great final, then the Black Ferns dropped two tests at home for the first time and finished a disappointing fourth in the first WXV 1 competition.
But from an individual player perspective, Williams-Guthrie’s move to the Blues Women is interesting. For starters, she’s probably the only 35-year-old, male or female, who will be turning fifteen on the side next year. But that’s not to say she’s a late bloomer: Williams-Guthrie is an Olympic medalist and NRLW veteran, showing the door is still wide open for female rugby players to move around.
Williams-Guthrie is now part of the foundation of professional women’s rugby in New Zealand. Her time in the Black Ferns Sevens outfit meant she was a professional athlete for longer than most All Blacks, giving her the ability to switch to a stint with the Gold Coast Titans last season. This move to the Blues will be a big step though, with her only experience of the fifteen-a-side game being a handful of club games in 2020. That was by circumstance rather than choice, as the Seven Cows team was able to travel. due to Covid restrictions.
“There are always challenges,” Williams-Guthrie said.
“Just the technical side of it. I’m blessed to have come from Sevens so I know the rules about the ruck and stuff. It’s just going to be like having more players on the pitch. I think it’s going to come from the league also help but the dynamic around the flow of the game, it’s about coming around and setting up that backline.”
She is excited to take part in the new Super Rugby Aupiki expansion competition, which will be extended to 10 weeks next season.
“I was really pleased with the quality, the way it’s been for the last few years. Even things like goal kicking, girls are being moved from the side now, it’s really cool to see,” she said.
However, while she is literally following in her brother’s footsteps (which new coach Carlos Spencer has joked that it’s only a matter of time before she grabs the boxing gloves), Williams-Guthrie is not alone in at all in terms of moving from sport to sport. sport. In fact, she is not the only one among the Women in Blue, with World Rugby Pioneer of the Year Katelyn Vahaakolo making the Black Ferns a year after playing for the Newcastle Knights in the NRLW.
In an ironic twist, Williams-Guthrie’s long-term Sevens teammate Tyla Nathan-Wong had to fly to Paris to receive the World Rugby Women’s Road Sevens Player of the Year award just hours after playing for the Kiwis Ferns, on the back of the NRLW. campaign with the St George-Illawarra Dragons.
“When you’re in a Sevens team, you’re in this bubble,” Williams-Guthrie said.
“You forget there’s a world outside of it, and now that I’ve stepped out of the Sevens bubble it’s like ‘wow, there’s all these opportunities’ and it’s really cool to be a part of it.”
It is definitely something that is not open to her male counterparts. Not even the versatile Williams-Guthrie brother could move from sport to sport within the same season, or even say they’re going straight back to rugby league before their rugby career even began. That’s exactly what Williams-Guthrie did at Eden Park, mapping out a move back to the Gold Coast and an ambition to play for the Kiwi Ferns at the next Rugby World Cup.
“You’re going to have women wanting to take these opportunities while still being the best rugby teams in New Zealand. I think it’s all about embracing it rather than pushing it to the sidelines.”
It raises an interesting case for NZ Rugby. They certainly wouldn’t mind the NRLW providing a few months of employment during a period when the only other option is the provincial, amateur Farah Palmer Cup – a competition whose future has few question marks. The problem for NZR though is that the NRLW is only going to get bigger, especially in 2025 when the Warriors have announced they will to relaunch the women’s program.
So there may be a shelf life for the kind of open career that Williams-Guthrie and her colleagues are enjoying. But for now, she is happy with how things are.
“In life, opportunities come and when you’re in the moment things change. I’ll never say never, because if I did I’d rather.”
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