Rugby: Inspirational sisters shake off illness to make Otago squad

Sisters Sene (left) and Sina Fanene are hoping to be selected for the Otago Spirit team. Photo by...
Sisters Sene (left) and Sina Fanene are hoping to be selected for the Otago Spirit team. Photo by Sally Rae.
Sina and Sene Fanene are an inspiration both on and off the rugby field.

The gutsy Oamaru sisters have both bounced back from serious illness and played their way into the Otago Spirit's focus squad for the national championship.

The squad will be whittled down before the competition begins in August. Both women have previously played for the team.

For Sene (24), a former Black Ferns triallist, this is her comeback year after two years away from the sport. She thought she would never play rugby again after being diagnosed with anorexia.

Meanwhile, Sina (25) was a university student in Dunedin when she contracted meningitis in 2005 and also had a stroke.

She recalled the onset of the disease during a weekend in Oamaru and how she had "fluey symptoms", stiff shoulders and a massive headache before being rushed by ambulance to Dunedin Hospital.

"It felt like someone was squeezing my brain," she said.

She was in hospital for a month, which included a week in intensive care, followed by rehabilitation and speech therapy. Her sister described it as a "terrible" time.

Sina, who works in customer services at TrustPower, was "really stoked" to be named in this year's focus squad. A loosehead prop with the nickname Bulldozer, she said she loved the scrummaging and "confrontational stuff" of the position.

Sene - with the nickname Sorry, because she was always saying it - was also thrilled to be named, given so many young players came through while she was on the sidelines.

Sene initially went to Dunedin playing basketball and attended the Institute of Sport, before switching codes and concentrating on rugby, playing at first five-eighth. She still plays social basketball.

Now a marketing, membership and exercise consultant and group fitness instructor at Oamaru Health and Fitness, Sene said she was grateful for the huge family support she had in recovering from her illness.

She is also studying post-graduate courses in journalism and sports management extramurally through Massey University.

Asked whether there was any sibling rivalry, Sene laughed and said it was only when her sister took her hair straighteners.

When Sina did "awesome runs" on the field, her younger sister said she felt proud, especially after what Sina had been through.

While Sene's first goal was to make the Otago Spirit team, a long-term goal was to play for Manu Samoa at the World Cup.

Today, the Fanene sisters will be playing for the North Otago women's team - the Whitestone 45ers - in Invercargill. Fellow player, schoolgirl Lavinia Siale, has also made the Otago Spirit focus squad.

Whitestone 45ers coach Alison Banks said Sina and Sene were "workhorses" who read the game very well.

Their contribution both on and off the field was brilliant and they were an inspiration to other team members.

"They genuinely care about the wellbeing of the girls," she said.

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