One last Storm season for Itunu
QUICK TAP: FARAH PALMER INTERVIEW
So what changed?
“It was one person and that was Anna Richards. When I played for the (UK) Barbarians earlier this year, she planted the seed to have one more year and help with the new girls coming through with the Storm,” says Itunu, one of the real characters of the women’s game.
Richards, of course, is the Black Ferns legend and current Storm assistant coach who played a heap of rugby at Test and provincial level with Itunu.
“I’ve got some catching up to do, because when I retired everything, including my body, retired. But I fully had a break and spent time with family. That tour with the Baabaas really reignited that passion. I really enjoyed playing the game again.”
Other than a few Barbarians appearances in May, her only outing this season was the Auckland semifinal with Ponsonby. She is the assistant coach for the Fillies.
Itunu has also been handed the Storm captaincy and her role is clear after a trying 2018 season for the 15-time champions, who were only saved from Premiership relegation by the introduction of Northland to the Championship section.
“It’s competitive in this Storm squad and everyone has to earn the jersey. Our theme this year is putting pride back in that jersey,” she says.
“So many new girls have come through and it’s just getting them used to that level of rugby and professionalism. Once they realise their potential, it’ll be a dangerous team. My main focus as captain is just to make sure the young ones transition well into the Auckland environment.”
As for which position Itunu will suit up in, that is floating. Black Ferns No 8 Charmaine McMenamin is right in the mix, so Itunu looks likely to be in the No 6 jersey for most of the season. If she has to play 80 minutes, she will front.
Some of that prime young talent is on the wing for the Storm, where sevens specialist Isla Norman-Bell has made a good fist of the 15s game, while MAGS student Princess Elliott and Black Fern Natahlia Moors will give further depth in the outsides.
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Itunu will form part of a Storm pack that includes Black Ferns McMenamin, Eloise Blackwell, her sister Aldora Itunu, Charmaine Smith and Aleisha-Pearl Nelson. Ruahei Demant will run the cutter in the backline. A quick look through the full squad would indicate this side should at least reach the semifinals.
Richards, along with new head coach Richie Walker and forwards coach Craig Hall, has already made an impact.
“There’s a whole of respect there for Anna. I don’t know if all of them know who Anna Richards is, but they’ll soon find out. Her coaching approach is really good for the younger ones. She’s not a yeller or aggressive. She’s quite calm, delivers well and they respond well to that,” says Itunu.
The Storm are at home to defending champion Canterbury this Sunday for their second round Premiership match. Five of their six regular season games are televised as part of double-headers, so the wider rugby public will get a good gauge of the leadership and influence of the one and only Linda Itunu.