Liana Mikaele-Tu’u: 'In the Black Ferns, there is no one left behind and always one more job to do'
Liana Mikaele-Tu’u was retrospectively cited and suspended for two games after Auckland’s 25-8 Farah Palmer Cup (FPC) win over Waikato on August 20.
The Black Ferns loose forward made head contact with an opponent and was consigned to the sidelines for a fortnight.
It’s hardly surprising then that Mikaele-Tu’u burst out the gates like a caged animal in Auckland’s 39-27 upset of Canterbury in the Premiership final in Christchurch on September 9.
Canterbury have won 25 more FPC games than the Storm since 2017 but the defending champions were outclassed by the passionate and vibrant visitors in the decider.
“I had something to prove. I love playing for the Storm and it meant heaps to finish the season on a high note after some self-reflection,” Mikaele-Tu’u told RugbyPass.
“We had a lot of young girls at the start of the season, and it took time for us to come together and play free. Some of the girls are only in high school but you’ve got to let them know they’re there for a reason.
“Our fullback Braxton Sorenson-McGee is only 16. She’s from a league background and I think she’s got an NRL contract already. A lot of her skills are transferable, and her calmness is amazing.
“Angelica Mekemeke Vahai, she’s deceptive, that girl. The number of times I’ve been jogging by her and she’s bloody run ten metres past me is ridiculous.”
It’s easy to forget that Mikaele-Tu’u is only 21 herself. Cheerful, intelligent, and driven she’s featured in 14 of the Black Ferns last 19 Test matches.
In June and July, she helped the Black Ferns win the Pacific Four Series with victories against Australia (50-0), Canada (52-21) and USA (39-17). Canada proved the toughest opponent for Mikaele-Tu’u.
“That number eight [Sophie de Goode] is amazing. She can do just about everything. That was quite a challenging match. The growth from last year by other countries has been huge and will continue with greater investment.”
Struggles against the USA were self-inflicted. Itiana Hohaia became the first Black Fern to be sent off in a Test match after two minutes. Mikaele-Tu’u followed her to the sin bin half an hour later but when she returned, she scored a try and performed strongly.
“That was a bit wild, but we didn’t panic. In Black Ferns, we do a lot of work with resets. That is how we stick to the game plan after mistakes or the unexpected. We do ‘what if’ sessions. What happens when we’re twenty points down or twenty points ahead? What do we do if we lose a player or the weather changes,” Mikaele-Tu’u said.
What is the worst-case scenario?
“Oh my gosh. What if we lost the best player in the world to a red card? Ruahei Demant, I’m just saying what everyone is thinking. Maybe I’d have to replace Lu at first five,” Mikaele-Tu’u said with a laugh.
WXV 1 comes to New Zealand next month with the Black Ferns due to face their World Cup semi-final opponents France (October 21), Wales (October 28), and final opponents England (November 4). Mikaele-Tu’u started four matches at the World Cup in 2022. Unfortunately, her tournament ended at halftime in the epic 25-24 semi-final victory over France.
“I broke my thumb a minute before halftime. That was upsetting. At halftime, we tried to strap it. I was able to move the thumb, but the tape wouldn’t stay intact so the doctor ruled me out,” Mikaele-Tu’u explained.
“I think I had a heart attack of emotions in the second half. When Caroline Drouin lined up that penalty, I looked across the bench and a lot of the girls had their heads in their hands, backs turned, and couldn’t watch. No matter what happened with that kick there was no way we were going to lose that game.
“France is one of the best teams in the world and quite hard to plan for because their style is out of it, very fast, different structures, physical.
“Personally, the final week was tough but I’m an optimistic person and I still had a job to do and that was to get around the girls who were playing and support them as much as I could. In the Black Ferns, there is no one left behind and always one more job to do. You don’t stop until the final whistle.”
England were conquered 34-31 in the final but since having their word record 30-Test win streak stopped by the Black Ferns they’ve won another Six Nations Grand Slam which included a 38-33 win over France at Twickenham in front of a world record crowd for a women’s international of 58,498.
Mikaele-Tu’u hasn’t focused too much on England with a Laurie O’Reilly Cup Test against Australia in Hamilton next Saturday.
However, she’s never played a winning match against the English. Her Test debut was in the Black Ferns 100th – a heavy 12-43 defeat in Exeter.
Liane is the sister of Highlanders and Hawke’s Bay No.8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u. They are the first brother-sister pair to be part of New Zealand World Cup-winning squads. In 2017 Marino helped the New Zealand Under 20’s win the World Championship in Georgia.
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