As with any field or industry in this world, be it sporting or entertainment, there is always ‘the one to watch’. The one who is on top of their game, leading the pack and filled with potential waiting to be unleashed.
For the world of women’s rugby, the one to watch is Ryleigh Hayes.After all, it’s not every day that you get to have “running on to Mt Smart Stadium and playing on the home of the Warriors, when I represented Counties Manukau” as a career highlight.
Born in Whakatane and having grown up in Kawerau, Ryleigh played in the different teams available when she was at Trident High School. Out of all of those teams, it was in volleyball that she got a head start.
“Volleyball is really where I believe I grew as sportsperson mentally.”
Since then, sport has become a big part of Ryleigh’s life. Currently she is balancing her second year of Bachelor in Sport and Exercise Science at Wintec with part-time jobs in two different fitness centres.
Then there’s the sport she is most passionate about – rugby.
“Touch is the first sport I ever represented Bay of Plenty in, making the U13 girls’ team,” she says.
Ryleigh’s credentials speak for themselves – New Zealand Maori Under 21 Mixed Touch Team Rep (2012), Papakura Rugby League Champion (2013, 2014), Counties Manukau Rugby League Rep (2013), Bay of Plenty Women’s Sevens Rep (2012-2013), Bay of Plenty Open Mixed Touch Rep (2012-2013), Bay of Plenty Open Women’s Touch Rep (2014-2015), and Marist Women’s Rugby Team (2015).
Considering that she only decided to play rugby fairly recently, the list is impressive.
“I started rugby when I was still living with my parents and turning up to Bay of Plenty Women’s Sevens training to make that squad in 2012.
“I moved to Hamilton and decided to take up the opportunity to play rugby league for Papakura in 2013 and I came to love the sport and win the championship with them.”
“Rugby was all we had in the Bay,” she continues, “but once I moved to Hamilton more opportunities came and I grew to towards league because it is a lot like touch but obviously with tackle.”
Like any sport, there is always a risk of injury. Ryleigh recently had an ACL reconstruction which has put her sporting goals temporarily on hold.
“I’ve had to re-evaluate my goals, such as putting touch on hold for the season, but using this time to enjoy life and work my way back to where I was, rehab my knee properly, and focus on building other aspects of my life.”
The injury is one of the biggest challenges her career has faced so far and she plans to overcome it by “putting in the time to rehab and take time to make sure her body is 100 percent before heading back on the field.
Ryleigh is not letting her injury dictate her life. Already looking ahead, she plans to gain fitness and trial for Auckland 9s Women’s team and make the Kiwi Ferns too.
Her fighting spirit is impressive, and her motivation to succeed is palpable when you talk to her.
“My family motivates me to do well at whatever I put my mind to. Recently I was asked what my favourite motivational quote was and truth be told, I don’t have one. I play sport because I love it and my family have always supported me.”
And for those planning to get into rugby or professional sports, Ryleigh offers some advice.
“Don’t forget why you started playing the sport in the first place. Grow and develop the younger players around you. Play for the enjoyment and be a positive sportswoman.”