With her sick daughter in hospital and the name of her recently deceased cousin written on her wrist, Krystal Rota was unable to hold back the tears after scoring a late try to clinch an 8-4 win for New Zealand Maori in the historic women’s All Stars match at AAMI Stadium.
Rota had endured a difficult week after her five-year-old daughter Nikayla was admitted to hospital in Auckland on the eve of the match against the Indigenous All Stars due to ongoing kidney problems and her cousin Louisa had passed away.
However, the Kiwi Ferns and Warriors hooker put aside what she described as "bitter sweet" emotions to grab victory for the Maori in the first women's clash between the teams.
"It’s been a very hard week, to say the least," Rota said. "My daughter has been in hospital while I have been here and that has been a bit of a struggle for me, feeling quite helpless here, and we had our first cousin pass away."
The Maori co-captain, who received the Trish Hina Medal as player of the match, wrote the name "Lou" on strapping tape on her left wrist in tribute to her late cousin.
“I carried her on the field with me because I didn’t get to say goodbye," she told NRL.com.
The television cameras did not show it but after seizing the opportunity to run from dummy half and score to break a 4-4 deadlock just five minutes from fulltime, Rota couldn't contain her emotions any longer.
Rota's tears after match-winning try
“I actually was trying to hold in the tears but they just came flowing out and I was glad that the girls huddled around me to let the tears drip, so I could wipe them away before the cameras zoomed in on my face," she said.
“It was very overwhelming feeling. I told the girls to keep their composure and it would come. It has been an extremely sad week but this makes it bittersweet and to take the win it has made it all worth it."
Until Rota's 55th minute try, little had separated the two teams as the Indigenous All Stars turned in a brave defensive performance to overcome a lack of possession and field position.
It was a remarkable effort by the Indigenous team as they had struggled to get over halfway for much of the opening 30 minutes and only had two play-the-balls inside the Maori 20-metre zone during the entire match.
Led by prop Kararaina Wira-Kohu, the Maori used their size advantage to make more than double the metres of their opponents with the ball in the first half – totalling 687 run metres to 322 by the Indigenous team.
The kicking game of Sydney Roosters and Jillaroos playmaker Zehara Temara, who was representing her Maori heritage, kept the Indigenous All Stars pinned inside their own half as the back three of Tahlia Hunter, Terri-Ann Caine and Shakiah Tungai usually received the ball near their own line.
Match: Indigenous Women’s v Maori Women's
Round 1 -
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
With the Indigenous team only able to average 26.9 metres per set compared to 45.8 metres by the bigger Maori side, halfback Sharon McGrady was often having to kick from deep inside her own half on the last tackle.
Yet despite the Maori team dominating field position and boasting a 59 per cent share of possession, they were only to cross for one first half try when winger Tyler Birch took advantage of an overlap to dive over in the corner in the 11th minute.
Buoyed by their ability to restrict the Maori team to just a 4-0 lead at halftime, the Indigenous team came out in the second term with a renewed enthusiasm and were rewarded when Tungai stepped inside two defenders to score just two minutes into the second term.
Tungai’s sideline conversion hit the uprights and the scores remained level until Rota's try five minutes before fulltime.
A try saving tackle by Hunter and five-eighth Quincy Dodds not only prevented Maori centre Jonsal Tautari from scoring in the 34th minute, but she was ruled to have gone over the sideline because he ponytail had flopped on the touchline.
Eventually the weight of possession told when Roti forced her way over the try line from dummy half and the Maori team managed to hold on to claim the Fanning-Murphy Trophy for winning the first women’s All Stars clash between the First Nations of Australia and New Zealand.
Krystal Rota’s sacrifice for All Stars clash