Eighteen-year-old Alena Saili's forceful efforts to have Black Ferns selectors notice her at this year's Bayley's Sevens Nationals in Rotorua have paid off after the young sensation was named as a contracted player in the 20-women squad today.
Black Ferns Sevens selectors used the extension of the women's squad to 20 contracted players for 2017 as a chance to develop exciting young talent such as Saili as they move forward in their quest for Tokyo gold.
The squad named today features 18 fully-contracted athletes and two training contracts - eight of which are new players to the Black Ferns Sevens environment.
Head Coach Allan Bunting said he was excited about the mix of old and new talent in the team.
"When selecting the squad we were looking for a mix of playmaker ability in the middle and power, speed and skill on the outside.
"I'm very happy that we have real potential in all these positions and that we have gained some size, height and have speed throughout the squad.
"There is already a lot of experience in the squad, but it is youthful experience - every player can go through to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and most of them could still be going for gold at the two games after that."
Saili enters the team having graduated from Southland Girls' High School just last year.
The blockbusting Otago forward has previously represented New Zealand in under 20's touch and was named the 2016 Senior Sportswoman of the Year at the Southland Secondary Schools Sports Awards.
She also led her school's First XV to a national title in the longer rugby format with three tries in the final against St. Mary's.
However, Lyric Faleafaga of Wellington is the youngest member of the squad, having been selected to the team with a training contract while being in her final year of high school.
"It's great to see amazing talent coming through at such a young age which is exciting for the future of the team," Bunting said.
"Now that sevens is an Olympic sport more teenage athletes are seeing it as a path to competing on the international stage at the highest level."
The full squad will come together for a training camp in Wellington on Monday 23 January ahead of their first tournament, the Wellington Sevens, for the year on January 28 and 29.
The selected squad will contest the remainder of the 2016-2017 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Black Ferns Sevens 2017 Squad
Sarah Goss (Captain) – Manawatu
Shakira Baker – Waikato
Michaela Blyde – Bay of Plenty
Kelly Brazier – Bay of Plenty
Gayle Broughton – Taranaki
Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga – Manawatu*
Lyric Faleafaga – Wellington (Training Contract)*
Theresa Fitzpatrick – Auckland*
Crystal Mayes – Manawatu (Training Contract)*
Tyla Nathan-Wong – Auckland
Cheyelle Robins-Reti – Waikato*
Alena Saili – Otago*
Terina Te Tamaki – Waikato
Ruby Tui – Canterbury
Stacey Waaka – Waikato
Katarina Whata-Simpkins – Wellington
Renee Wickliffe – Counties Manukau*
Niall Williams – Auckland
Tenika Willison – Waikato*
Portia Woodman – Counties Manukau