The Chiefs Manawa will have an entirely Māori coaching group, with Carla Hohepa (Tainui, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) and Dwayne Sweeney (Ngāti Māhanga) named as assistants to head coach Crystal Kaua, showcasing the sport’s growing inclusivity and the rise of indigenous talent in coaching roles.
“Pretty lucky in the fact that I have just come out of playing and into the coach’s role, especially under the likes of Sweens and Muz, to be able to learn,” Kaua says.
Carla Hohepa is a prominent figure in women’s rugby, having played 29-tests as a Black Fern and the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup.
She moves into her coaching role after a distinguished playing career, and says she’s lucky to be able to learn from her colleagues: “The reo, the haka, everything that kind of binds the club as one is special and I think that is what makes this environment so amazing.”
Her first full season of coaching follows contributions to the Waikato Women’s Sevens side and the Waikato FPC team, while she was still playing, and she has also been involved in the Ako Wāhine Performance Coaching programme, aimed at elevating women into coaching positions.
Joining her is Dwayne Sweeney, whose rugby career is equally impressive, featuring 69 appearances for the Chiefs and over 100 games for Waikato at the NPC level, alongside stints with the Māori All Blacks and New Zealand Barbarians.
He says the players are very good talkers: “They ask a lot of questions, which can be a good thing sometimes, sometimes not but it’s an enjoyable group to work with.”
Playing insights plus cultural wisdom
Post-retirement, Sweeney has already proven his coaching prowess with the Waikato Women’s sevens team, leading them to national runner-up positions in 2018 and 2019, and assisting the Waikato NPC team.
The inclusion of Hohepa and Sweeney complements the leadership of Crystal Kaua, creating a uniquely Māori coaching trio for the Chiefs Manawa. Their collective experience, both on and off the field, is poised to bring a dynamic approach to the team’s strategy and performance, enriching the players’ experience with a blend of high-level playing insights and cultural wisdom.
The team, under its pioneering coaching staff, is expected to produce an exciting brand of rugby that honours their heritage while pushing the boundaries of the sport.
Not content with just the coaching staff’s heritage, Chiefs Manawa player Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu (Ngā Puhi) says it’s the whole team pushing the culture forward, “The team is made up of different ethnicities from the Pacific Islands including Māori and our language - there are so many of us speaking our Māori language.”
Chiefs Manawa finished second last year, falling to Matatū in the grand final. While the players are determined to go one better this year, they are still making te reo Māori and Māori culture a focus of the team.
They face Hurricanes Poua in Hamilton on March 2.