Luciana Nicholas is busy booking an appointment for a customer at her husband’s tattoo shop.
It is about nine in the morning but things are already looking busy for Polynesian Tattoos at the Punanga Nui Market.
Inside the wooden hut, a customer waits patiently as tattooist husband Clive Nicholas gets his tools ready.
As I walk in, I’m met with a firm handshake from Clive, whom I know as an Avatiu rugby union and league stalwart.
Luciana greets me with a smile and ushers me to the back of their shop for an interview I arranged over phone 10 minutes earlier.
I ask, tattoos or netball court? I’m wondering where she enjoys spending her time the most.
Of course netball, she replies with a laugh.
“I just come in to help my husband. He has been very supportive. He is sports oriented, work oriented and family oriented. It makes things very easy for me and netball,” Luciana, the national team captain, says.
Support from her family is the veteran netballer’s biggest strength and she credits her incredible run in the sport to the backing she has received from her loved ones.
“I think it (netball) started from my mum. I was always around her when she was playing in New Zealand, I was always with her at the courts. It’s been in the family, my aunties Sel and Ina, they have all represented the country.”
Luciana is the eldest daughter of former Silver Fern Margaret Matenga.
Margaret is regarded one of the best netball players during her days in the 1980s.
She attracted many fans because of her style of play. Not Luciana.
“She probably was a player I disliked because everyone would compare me to her!
“My grandpa is the kind of person who was ‘you have to look up to your mum. She went world class and I want you to go world class. Don’t worry about the Cook Islands, go higher, and go for New Zealand’.
“I was like ‘I hate my mum, she started this and now I have to follow her footstep, and have big shoes to fill’.”
But Luciana had no choice.
“She is always right; we are always wrong. Because she has coached me so many years and she just knows exactly what to say and when to say it.
“But she always says that this day and age, this sport is so much faster. There is so much more skill and speed involved and even height.
“My mum would say it was easier during her days and feels things have progressed so much now. She said they never used to play the way we play netball now. \
“It’s quite rewarding to hear those sort of comments. It’s good to know despite all she has achieved; she still values our contribution to the sport.”
Luciana may have not been able to make the Silver Ferns team, but she managed to create a legacy of her own.
She doesn’t remember exactly but says she has earned about 80 test caps for the country in a career spanning more tha two decades.
It all began in the South Pacific Mini Games in 1997 in American Samoa. Luciana was 16 then and she helped the Cook Islands win the gold medal in the netball competition at the Games.
She went on to compete in a number of Mini Games, Pacific Games, Commonwealth Games and one World Cup.
In 2015, Luciana, who plays goal defence and shooter, took a break from playing to focus on her umpiring and officiating duties.
She saw officiating as an opportunity to keep connected to the sport after her playing days are over.
Luciana took up umpiring courses, courtesy of the funding from the Australian government, and managed to get as far as New Zealand Netball B badge.
“I felt I needed to give some more. It was really hard at that time to keep the core team together. The players were always leaving or getting pregnant so I thought there could be something I can do.
“I thought if I stay back something might just happen and I’m kind of glad that I did that.”
Something surely did happen.
Cook Islands won the 2017 Nations Cup in Singapore and, a month ago, the team claimed the gold medal at the Pacific Games in Samoa.
Luciana hopes the gold medal win will attract more sponsors and ease the burden on the national team and players.
“The gold medal was definitely the boost that we needed. It’s definitely the boost that the sports needed. And it all happened because of the vision that came from our management team.
“Ana and Joy had a plan of what they wanted. Fitness was key and attitude and discipline was a huge part.
“I think it all came down to their understanding of our situation. They used to play for the Cook Islands, they know what it is like. They know all the sacrifices we have to make.
“We fork out our own money to get to places for build-up and it’s not easy especially being a mother and a wife, you have to leave your loved ones at home while representing the country at international events.”
The Pacific Games was supposed to be Luciana’s final international fixture. But she is putting her retirement plans on hold for now.
Luciana, 37, wants to represent the country at the Nations Cup in Singapore later this year before hanging up her bib.
Officiating and grooming the upcoming generation of players will be on the cards next.
Or else, the Polynesian Tattoos door is always open for her.