How Silver Fern legend Cat Tuivaiti bounced back from rock bottom

After losing her dream job, the netball star is back on the court for a very different squad
Michael Rooke

You just can’t keepa good woman down. After a cruel professional blow last year saw Cathrine Tuivaiti questioning her future in netball, the former Silver Fern is the picture of triumph as she chats to Woman’s Day, having just been announced in the Tonga Tala squad for this month’s Netball World Cup – an invitation that took Cat quite by surprise.

“To be asked to be a part of such a historic moment for our people is humbling,” she says. “This group is special. I can’t believe my family and I get to join this part of the story. I’m absolutely excited and truly believe we can add some spice. We should not be discounted!”

It was a different story just nine months ago, when Cat, 36, was in a “rough place”. Having just secured her dream job as head coach of an English Super League franchise, life should have been rosy for the legendary goal shoot.

She’d left her husband, professional rugby player Jimmy, 35, in Italy and moved to the UK with their two boys, Sebastian, three, and Leonardo, one, to take up the role at Wasps Netball. But her dream gig came tumbling down when the club’s parent company went into administration without the team ever taking the court. All staff lost their jobs, including Cat.

“Honestly, it set me back emotionally – I didn’t even open my laptop for four months after that,” she tells.

“I was like, ‘My God, what just happened?!'”

But now, as she reflects on a crazy 12 months during a whistle-stop visit back to Aotearoa, Cat is absolutely fizzing at life’s turn of events – not that any of it was supposed to happen.

“I swear, this wasn’t part of the plan!” she laughs on more than one occasion during our chat. But as she says, when has anything ever gone as planned?

The past few years have been topsy turvy for Cat (née Latu) and former North Harbour rugby star Jimmy, who wed in 2016, before welcoming Sebastian, aka Bash, in 2019, followed by Leo in 2021.

The pair have mostly been based in Italy since 2020, having spent five years before then on opposite corners of the world as Jimmy played in Italy’s premier league, while Cat chased her netball dreams with top Kiwi and Aussie teams.

Amid the constant travel, there was a heartbreaking miscarriage between the births of Bash and Leo. Then Italy was hit particularly hard by the first wave of COVID. It was a chaotic, often-scary time.

But the athletes have both been dedicated to grabbing opportunities as they come and the couple are determined to show their sons that they’re following their dreams as far as they’ll take them.

“Sometimes it’s petrifying,” Cat admits with a wry grin. “Having kids does make it extra tricky, but Jimmy and I are a great team. We’re good at putting everything out on the table, even if it’s uncomfortable, to decide what we’re doing. We’ve always wanted to use the talents God has chosen us to have and we have an incredible support system of family who are always really keen to come over to help us!

“It’s only really hard at times like this, when we come back to New Zealand, and I see my babies running around with their cousins. I hate that I’ve taken that away from them, but I have to remind myself this is a short part of all of our lives. We have to use our gifts to the fullest extent so that when it’s time to stop, we can truly let go.”

Time together as a family is precious for Cat and Jimmy, who juggle sons Sebastian (left) and Leo between them.

Once a bit of a wild child, Cat’s old motto was, “I might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I might be someone’s shot of vodka.” This visit home is the first time most of her family has seen her in “full mum mode” and she says it frightens her whānau.

“They hadn’t met me as a mother – I’ve always been the one to sleep in, be very chill and do whatever I want, but then they met Mummy Cat, who is very different and very focused on making sure everyone has a jacket. They were both mortified and proud of who I’ve become!”

Motherhood might have mellowed her, but she speaks of her two boys with a fiery passion. Bash and Leo are her absolute pride and joy, and although they look alike, their personalities are wildly different.

“Like, extraordinarily different! Bash is quite gentle and soft – I didn’t even know when he got teeth because he didn’t cry or anything – and my little Leo has that second-child syndrome, man. He’s a firecracker. He is not scared of anything. He’ll go running and throw himself off stuff. He’s the one we have to watch!”

Now Cat’s adjusted to life as a mum, she’s on a journey back to loving netball after a serious knee injury in 2018 threatened to derail her professional career. But after dipping her toe back into the sport with English side the Severn Stars, followed by a stint in Australia playing for the Gold Coast Titans – she answered an SOS call from their coach, Silver Ferns legend Temepara Bailey (née George) – Cat’s love for the game has been reinvigorated.

She’s excited about the chance to play for Tonga, although she admits she’s “absolutely terrified too”.

Cat laughs, “Sometimes I ask myself why I do these things. I’m not a spring chicken any more and I’ve had to make sure my kids come first, but I don’t do anything unless I can give it 100% and we’ve managed to make it work.

Look at Mummy go! Cat is thrilled her kids get to see her doing what she loves.

“It’s crazy and stressful, but the whole family is along for the ride and the team loves having the kids around. It hits different when you get to do something you love but your kids get to be there.”

When Cat pulls on the Tongan red dress during the World Cup, she’ll become the only top netball player to have represented three countries – Samoa, New Zealand and Tonga. “What a privilege,” she says. “It’s just so incredible.”

And when it’s finally time for her to hang up her bib, Cat will continue her life-long passion for netball in coaching.

“It’s great to still be playing, but I’m looking at the game differently now,” she explains. “I’ve been learning from Bubby [Temepara] and I want to keep learning. Coaching is where I want to go. But looking forward, I’m just so happy to be where I am. Everything is falling into the right places.”

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