Moors the merrier: Aussie’s loss is Black Ferns’ gain
If Natahlia Moors’ emotions had been a little mixed on November 18 last year, it would have been quite understandable.
Pulling on a Black Ferns jersey for the first time for her debut test against France was, of course, quite a big deal for the fleet-footed winger. Her parents, father Kidd and mum Liz, had made the trip across the globe and were perched eagerly in the stands of Grenoble’s Stade des Alpes.
“I was very overwhelmed,” Moors tells LockerRoom on the eve of her first camp as a fully contracted Black Ferns player. “It was the most amazing feeling, it is quite hard to explain what playing in a black jersey feels like. Being able to do that in front of my family was so humbling.”
The rest of the Moors clan were watching on just as eagerly, perched around televisions back home in... Brisbane.
Because, here’s the thing about the latest Black Ferns wing prospect – she’s kind of Australian. Born in Auckland to Samoan parents, Moors lived in Grey Lynn until she was four. The family then relocated to Queensland.
Kidd and Liz both played rugby. Natahlia concentrated on athletics until she was 15, when she was conscripted into Liz’s rugby team to make up numbers.
“I used to watch my parents play rugby on a Saturday after I would run athletics,” she recalls. “I think I was about 15 when my mum’s team needed some players for a game. I was all dolled up, I probably looked the prettiest I have ever in my life.
“Mum forced me to go on the field. I played on the wing – and I don’t think I have stopped since.”
Moors was a natural, quickly catching the eye of Queensland and Australian selectors. In 2014, she donned the green and gold to represent Australia at the Youth Olympics, winning a gold medal.
The notion that just four years later she would be pulling on a Black Ferns jersey in the middle of winter in the south of France would have seemed fanciful back then.
But things change in sport. A serious knee injury sidelined Moors for an extended period. When she returned to the field following surgery, she found she was no longer part of Australia’s plans.
“I kind of fell out of that system. I wasn’t getting recognised in any way. That was really hard for me. I grew up playing rugby and all I wanted to do was play. Not being able to play at the top level ... I am a very competitive person. That took its toll on me.”
Liz pointed out that there was another potential path for her daughter to follow.
“It was the most amazing experience, but also very eye-opening – that you might get a black jersey but it doesn’t mean you are invincible."
- Natahlia Moors
“She pretty much asked if I wanted to move to New Zealand and give it a crack.”
Looking back now, Moors admits she was “quite young” and perhaps a little impetuous when she made a decision to turn her back on Australia.
Initially she commuted to Auckland to play for the Auckland Storm in the Farah Palmer Cup, scoring nine tries in a fine debut season in 2015, returning to Brisbane to live and work full time.
Then she made the move permanent.
A strong showing at the national sevens in 2017 caught the eye of the Black Ferns Sevens selectors, and in 2018 she was handed a second tier ‘training contract’. That season culminated with selection for the Black Ferns’ tour of the United States and France – and an emotional debut in Grenoble.
Back to those mixed feelings. Having been essentially rejected by Australia, Moors could have been forgiven if her pride in representing the nation of her birth had been blended with just a little bit of glee in proving wrong the naysayers in the country she had called home.
She insists, however, there were no thoughts of ‘up yours’ to the Australian system. Neither was there a Benji Marshall moment (the Kiwis captain famously realised he was playing for the wrong country when he had to sing the Australian national anthem as an Australian Schoolboy representative).
“I think more that everything happens for a reason,” Moors says. “[When I was overlooked] by Australia I was left questioning ‘What am I doing wrong’?”
“I rehabbed very well. So at the time I just didn’t understand. But I think I was very young as well. Looking back now, I didn’t play for Australia again because I am meant to be here in New Zealand.”
With her cousin Jeral Skelton already representing Australia in men's Sevens and her 16-year-old Australian-born sister Luanna shaping a potential star, there could be interesting times ahead on the family loyalty front.
“I hope one day my little sister plays for Australia but for, me, looking back that wasn’t what it was meant to be,” says Moors.
Her debut, as it happens, didn’t turn out quite like it was meant to be, either, with the 22-year-old rookie introduced off the bench in the final minutes of a rare 30-27 loss to the French.
“It was the most amazing experience, but also very eye-opening – that you might get a black jersey but it doesn’t mean you are invincible,” she says.
“I was only on the field for four or five minutes and I feel like I ran 12k.”
Hard to take at the time, the shock loss will ultimately prove beneficial to both the sport and the Black Ferns as they track towards the World Cup in 2021, Moors believes.
“[France] are an amazing team. It is amazing for women’s rugby to have more countries being competitive. As much as you love to win, you don’t want to smash teams 50, 60 to nil, like the Black Ferns have been known for.
“It is good for women’s rugby to have teams that aren’t going to just lie down, that will have a go. It also means that we get to see what we need to work on. That puts us in a good position for the year to come, and for what is to come with the World Cup.”
Having been granted full contract status two years out from the global showpiece tournament – to be hosted in New Zealand – Moors is aware she is firmly in the frame for 2021.
“It’s definitely in the back of my mind and obviously something we are all striving for. But, being new into the environment, my biggest goal is just to get as much game time as I possibly can – and be in the best position to put my hand up and say: ‘I am ready’.
“Securing a Black Ferns contract gives me the confidence that they could potentially be looking at me to play in the World Cup, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. We as a team have a lot of work to do and, myself a player, I have a lot of work to do as well.”
For Moors and her Black Ferns team mates, fully contracted doesn’t yet translate to full-time. The players assemble together for just under 60 days per year, leaving plenty of time for work or study. Moors – who completed two years of a Bachelor of Education degree in Australia - works in Auckland Transport’s customer service team.
“I don’t know if I could not work. We have so much free time, I’d probably go crazy if I didn’t work. I know a lot of the girls will be the same – they couldn’t just sit around all day.
“It’s not like being in a Super Rugby franchise where you train all day.”
Last weekend’s Black Ferns camp in Palmerston North may have been Moors’ first as a fully contracted player. But she wasn’t expecting to feel any different when she walked through the doors of Massey University’s Sport and Rugby Institute.
“My team humble me a lot,” she says. “They treat me like the baby I am and bully me around, so I don’t think it will be any different from when I first went into camp.”
She’ll feel right at home – knowing she is exactly where she is meant to be.
LockerRoom is made possible by contributions from readers like you. Become a supporter to expand our in-depth coverage of women's sport in NZ.