The northern beaches rugby community is suitably chuffed that locals Madison Ashby, Faith Nathan and Sariah Paki are off to Tokyo for the Games of the XXXII Olympiad.

The trio were selected to play Rugby Sevens for Australia and defend the gold medal won by the team in Rio in 2016.

And when you think: How good is that, in that very Australian way where it’s not a question but a statement – How good is that! – the answer of course is very good.  

In fact it’s magnificent.

Yet it’s not only the rugby community who’ll be watching the girls run about the middle of Tokyo Stadium from July 26-31.

Manly touch footy had a big hand too. Indeed Manly touch could argue they made them.

Ashby, Nathan and Paki – all 20 – were part of an underage girls team that was unbeaten for nine (9) years.

The all-conquering, unbeaten for nine years Manly Warringah Touch Association girls rep team. Pic: Manly Touch.

It’s a team that remains, indisputably, one of the great sports teams to pull on the maroon and white colours that represent Manly and Warringah.

There’s an argument they are the best local team ever. Any sport, any level – senior, junior, men, women – that Manly touch team may be the greatest that’s played sport on the northern beaches.

Roha Paki ran the team from the U/12s through to U/18s, overseeing the progress of daughter Sariah and nieces Faith, Pihuka Duff and Kiiahla Duff, who would all play touch for Australia. As would team-mate Kate Ryan.

Mya Geros – a member of the team the whole 9-year run – played softball for Australia. Tamara Wooley played water polo for Australia.  Nell Breslin ran for NSW.

Lucy McDonald played league for Parramatta Eels in the NRL’s touch premiership.  Tia Geros played for Sydney Scorpions. So did Sophie Wickham. So did Isabella Beach.

And for nine years they could not be beaten.

Roha Paki: Supercoach. Pic: Manly Touch.

Roha – part of the fabulous, multitudinous Berryman-Paki-Duff clan – admits there was an element of luck that so many champion players became a champion team.

“All the parents had babies at the same time!” she laughs.

Yet it was “work ethic, enjoyment and will to win” that were the greatest contributors, according to Roha.

“I coach to win. I have six kids and I make sure if you’re going to play sports, and I’m the coach, I’m not coming second.

“It’s an attitude that rubbed off on the girls.

“It got the fire in their bellies,” Roha says.

Manly stars Madison Ashby, Sariah Paki and Faith Nathan in rep garb. Pic: Manly Touch.

Paki’s training sessions were equal parts hard work and fun. She says she motivated the girls to become the best they can be. They saw older girls and peers achieving.

And they saw a path. And today, that’s all the way to Tokyo.

“You show them there’s direct line between hard work, winning and enjoyment,” Roha says. “Our girls, they just kept coming up to the standards to become elite players.”

Roha puts her philosophy down in part to conversations with her late, great cousin, the All Black front-rower “Stormin’” Norm Berryman, who lived in Perth and passed away, aged 52, from a heart attack in 2015.

“We were really tight,” Roha says. “Before he passed away I asked him a lot of questions about how he got to the All Blacks. He’d tell me, ‘Cuz, don’t just play one sport’.

“He used the expression ‘true champion’, meaning someone who can do a bit of everything. So I took that on board.

“I used to play tennis, golf, league, rugby, touch, and take a bit from all of those things. And I’ve applied it to my family. I’ve never told anyone that! But I just applied that with my family and it worked.”

For her kids, too. 

“Anything they wanted to do; we’d put them in. Everything helped their progression – netball, rugby, league, tennis, golf.”

Sariah Paki, Faith Nathan and Madison Ashby in the rugby sevens strip of Australia. Pic: Rugby Australia.

Roha says sport came naturally. “I was brought up in a large, sporty family and it just came naturally. Sport has always just been something we’d do.”

Roha has nine brothers and sisters. Sariah has 38 cousins.

“We love our Xmas, birthdays, and the kids love sport. They’re always around family. But also around our really great friends here,” Roha says.

Roha moved from New Zealand to Australia with her family when she was 15 “and made beautiful friends. We have a barbecue and everyone comes over – Australian, Fijian, Tongan – we invite everyone!”

Today she is back to her roots, development coach for the Manly U/10s.

“I’m producing the next batch!” she laughs.

““It’s been different with the younger ones, and fun. We’ll see how they go in the next few years.

“They’re big shoes to fill!”