A quiet off-court demeanour and engaging smile detract from the imposing presence midcourter Renee Savai’inaea is having for Central Manawa during the early rounds of the Beko Netball League.
In a true test of her character, the athletic and strongly-built Savai’inaea has cut an impressive figure while carving up the midcourt in Manawa’s back-to-back opening wins as she reinvents herself in a new position.
After making last year’s Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse team while still a student at St Mary’s College, the multi-talented sportswoman has dropped back to the Beko team this year to concentrate on her development as a wing defence/centre as opposed to her former role as a circle defender.
A former NZU21 squad member and New Zealand Secondary School representative, Savai’inaea, who remains a Pulse training partner while also taking on the Manawa captaincy duties this year, was a Beko title winner with the Central team in 2017.
Happy in her work and enjoying the camaraderie of her team-mates, Savai’inaea is fearless and forthright on court while understated and humble off it.
``Changing positions is definitely a good challenge for me,’’ she said. ``Developing my attacking game has been good and I’ve got really good support from the coaches and players around me. I’m enjoying it.
``Captaincy has been another challenge. I’m not much of a speaker and there’s a lot of learnings that come with it but the girls really support me, so it’s good.
``There’s a lot of talent in this team and we’ve all got our different strengths which makes it good when we come together. Everyone has their different styles of play which makes for competitive in-house rivalry and brings out the best in all of us.’’
Manawa coach Pelesa Semu is a lot more expansive in her appraisal of the special qualities that make the talented teen tick.
``Renee’s taken the opportunity to further develop her game and I’ve been really impressed with her attitude and what she’s producing out on court,’’ Semu said. ``She’s a powerful athlete and that’s what she’s bringing to the attacking end, a presence which is backed up by her intelligence and fitness.
``We have to remember that she’s only 18, she’s set herself some goals and if it was anybody else, they could have walked away. What she’s done says a lot about her character, of wanting to keep learning and wanting to get better.
``While still only 18, she is the senior player in this group, she’s enjoying it, enjoys the position and contributes a lot to how we’re trying to play the game on attack.
``Having that experience with the Pulse, then coming back to Beko she brings a lot of that value with her. She knows what hard work is, she knows what being professional is all about and ultimately, she knows what performance looks like.
``All the girls really look up to that which is a real bonus. She’s a great leader, doesn’t talk a lot but her actions speak the loudest, and that’s where she leads by example.’’
Manawa meet a well-credentialled Southern Blast in Round Three action in Invercargill on Sunday, and could likely face towering shooter Jennifer O’Connell and midcourter Kendall McMinn, two ANZ Premiership regulars as well as rising young defender Taneisha Fifita.