The challenges of a full-time mum are replaced by the challenges of a full-time athlete for Kelera Nawai-Caucau at the Stars this season. But the Fijian Pearl is facing a tough decision on her netball future.
Kelera Nawai-Caucau misses her five-year-old son, Josua Tuisova, dearly, while he spends a few months with extended family in Fiji.
But for the 25-year-old defender, it’s a chance to focus fully on netball for the first time in her netball career.
Nawai-Caucau signed for the Stars in the ANZ Premiership this year, and made the move from Christchurch to Auckland for the season. And she's become one of the side's key players, leading from the back.
“It’s going great. I’m loving it at the moment - no kids, no husband,” she jokes.
Born and raised in Fiji, Nawai-Caucau moved to Christchurch in 2014, on a scholarship at St Andrew’s College.
She played in Christchurch for several years, including for the Mainland National Netball League team and as a training partner for the Tactix in 2017. She then returned to Fiji and played for her country at the 2019 Netball World Cup. The Fijian Pearls finished 14th.
Now she has to make the difficult decision whether she puts her hand up to play for the Pearls again at this year's World Cup in Cape Town.
Nawai-Caucau was contracted as an import player for the Pulse in the 2021 ANZ Premiership, and last season, she played at home for the Tactix.
Living in Methven, she would wake up early in the morning, drop her son at school and then head to practice with the Tactix.
“It was kind of tough for me because I was with my son, who was four back then. Before most trainings I had to drop him off and the school didn’t open till 8am so I had to wait around,” Nawai-Caucau explains.
“Sometimes I’d be half an hour to an hour late to trainings, which is kind of tough for the girls cause it’s not fair.”
With husband, Nete, busy with work in Methven, Nawai-Caucau decided to send her son to Fiji a month before the netball season started with the Stars this year.
He’s looked after by family - Nawai-Caucau’s mum and three older siblings are in Fiji. She she misses them a lot.
“It’s hard being away from my family, my husband and my son, but I’m sort of used to it now, the long-distance part,” she says.
Josua is coming back to Christchurch next week, and will catch the Stars playing the Tactix at Christchurch Arena - Nawai-Caucau’s new vs old team.
It won’t be long until the season finishes and she can be with her family full-time again.
“I actually like having my own space, but also I miss my son and my husband. Once I’m back, I’ll be like full-time mum, probably going to have a headache every day,” she laughs.
Up in Auckland, Nawai-Caucau lives with Stars shooter Amorangi Malesala, and the duo go to trainings together. She’s full of praise for the close-knit Stars environment.
“I’m loving it here, I love the culture, I love the team, it’s so much fun,” Nawai-Caucau says.
“We’re sort of like a family - a family away from home. Everyone is so close together, you can tell them anything and everything.”
The Stars are Nawai-Caucau's family away from home.
With the retirement of Silver Fern Anna Harrison, a space for a new defender in the Stars opened up this season. Nawai-Caucau jumped at the chance to play alongside Elle Temu and Holly Fowler, primarily at goal keep.
“At first, I was trying to learn how they play," she says. "It was a bit everywhere at the beginning but I’m coming around to it now.
"I’m learning lots from Elle and Holly. The way they play is just so different from the way I play.
“So it’s good to have a chance to continue growing and learning something new and doing something new - which I didn’t know I could do.”
Nawai-Caucau has been acknowledged with two MVP awards this season - one in a 49-47 win over the Pulse in round three, the other a 59-51 win over the Steel in round seven.
Both games she played a full 60 minutes at goal keep and came up with crucial intercepts and gains in the circle.
“It felt good, but I just hate the [TV] interviews afterwards,” the reserved character laughs.
“The first one, I felt happy cause I was confident that I was doing my job well, we were touching and connecting to each other. We were thriving that game.”
Nawai-Caucau’s international netball future is slightly uncertain.
She’s thinking of going back to Fiji with her family once the ANZ Premiership season finishes for a relaxing holiday, but whether she continues to play for the Fijian Pearls is a dilemma she’s still weighing up.
“I played at the last World Cup for Fiji, and currently I'm an import player. So when it comes to contracting, it’s a bit hard to sign an import player,” she explains.
Fiji played three pool matches at the 2019 Netball World Cup, against Jamaica, South Africa and Trinidad and Tobago and couldn't beat the higher-ranked teams. (Fiji were ranked 17th in the world going into the tournament, with all their competitors within the top 10).
They came close to Trinidad and Tobago, losing by just 11 goals. Beating Singapore and Sri Lanka in the second stage of the tournament meant Fiji played Samoa for 13th place, losing by 11 to finish 14th overall.
Fiji have now dropped to 19th in the world, but Nawai-Caucau believes it would be valuable for Fijian players to come and experience netball life in New Zealand. “It would be a great opportunity for them, they’re a very young team,” she says.
ANZ Premiership teams are allowed to sign one import player every season. This year, the Pulse signed shooter Joyce Mvula from Malawi, while the Tactix and the Steel have English Roses Laura Malcolm and George Fisher respectively.
Nawai-Caucau knows her New Zealand netball journey will be tougher if she chooses to play for Fiji at the Netball World Cup in July.
“My option is if I play at the World Cup, my chances are very low next year for contracting. But if I don’t, then I don’t know. I’ll be just like a normal player, not import or anything if I don’t play the World Cup,” she says.
She’s humble, one of the key cogs of the Stars - playing an average of three quarters every game, including the full 70 minutes of their extra-time marathon against the Northern Mystics on Monday (which the Stars won by two).
Nawai-Caucau has the sixth-most defensive rebounds of any player in the competition, and the fifth-most intercepts, with 16.
And with the Stars sitting at fourth on the ANZ Premiership ladder, within just one point of second place, every tip from Nawai-Caucau counts.
*Round nine of the ANZ Premiership kicks off with the Steel taking on the Pulse at 7pm on Saturday. Sunday sees the Tactix face the Mystics at 2pm, with the Stars playing the Magic at 4pm. The round concludes on Monday with the Tactix vs the Pulse at 7.30pm. Catch all games live on Sky Sport.