Being at the forefront of change runs in the Blyde family.
As Port Taranaki chairman from 1953 to 1974, Sir Henry Blyde led the push to build Blyde Wharf and Blyde Terminal as the port looked to develop its export business. That decision paid off as Port Taranaki became New Zealand’s number two export hub.
More than 40 years later, Sir Henry’s great-granddaughter Michaela Blyde is a superstar of women’s rugby and spearheading the rapid rise of the women’s game both nationally and internationally.
At just 22, Michaela is already a veteran of the Black Ferns women’s sevens team and her career reached stellar heights in 2017 when the speedy winger was named World Rugby’s sevens player of the year.
She is likely to be in the mix again this year having been an integral part of the team that finished second in the world sevens series, won the Commonwealth Games gold medal, and won the World Cup, with Michaela scoring a hat-trick in the final.
While she never met her great-grandfather, Michaela says hearing stories about his achievements is both humbling and inspiring as she forges a career in rugby.
“When I was about eight, my parents took us down to the wharf and took a photo of us with his concrete plaque. As kids it was hard to understand because we were young, but now as I’ve got older, the more stories you’re told it’s quite cool to hear how important he was with Port Taranaki,” she says.
“It’s really cool to have someone who’s that important in the family and someone who’s knighted as well makes me quite proud.”
Sir Henry would no doubt be similarly proud of his great-granddaughter’s achievements.
In 2013, at just 17, Michaela was called into the Black Ferns women’s sevens team and was a member of the Taranaki women’s 15-a-side team that played in the Farah Palmer Cup national provincial championship.
With Taranaki not having a women’s team the following year and with her sevens career taking off, Michaela made the decision to leave Taranaki and headed to Mt Maunganui, where the New Zealand sevens squad met for regular training camps. Now she is a fixture of the team as a contracted player and from next month the squad will train fulltime together as it is centralised in Mt Maunganui.
She represents Bay of Plenty in sevens, but won’t be in the 15-a-side team that hosts the Port Taranaki Whio in Rotorua tomorrow – the Whio’s fourth game in their long-awaited return to the Farah Palmer Cup.
“My focus at the moment is to make the Olympic team in 2020 so I am concentrating on playing sevens and will hold off playing 15s until after 2020,” Michaela says.
She does, however, hope to one day don the amber and black again.
“I definitely have a plan of going back and playing for Taranaki before I retire, but for now, because of my sevens, it’s easier to be based in Mt Maunganui.”
In the meantime, she is thrilled the Port Taranaki Whio have returned to the top level of provincial rugby and has been eagerly monitoring their progress.
“Taranaki haven’t had a team in the Farah Palmer Cup for four years – the last time was when I was playing for them – so it’s awesome we’re able to develop Taranaki women’s rugby and be at that next level again,” she says.
“The girls are going really well – they’ve got a lot of new girls who’ve never played at this level before but they’re enjoying the challenge, and just need to keep working hard, keep their heads up and stay positive. The more experience they get the better they’ll get.”
With women’s rugby now being professional and providing clear pathways for girls to make a career in the game, Michaela says the sport has gained greater credibility.
“The women’s game has risen massively – we’re promoted more on TV and we’re playing on TV more often, so a lot more people are aware of us."
“With the success we’ve had recently it’s made people realise that we’re actually really good and that we’re worth watching.”
The backing from established well-known companies, such as Port Taranaki, also gives the women’s game more clout.
“Having Port Taranaki on the jersey shows that big companies are willing to support our team. It’s really cool, and I know the girls are really proud to call themselves the Port Taranaki Whio."
“For me it’s quite humbling to say that my great-grandfather was part of the port many years ago and now the port is supporting a sport and a team that I’m really proud of.”