Melodie Robinson is the 2021 recipient of the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association Kirk Award in recognition of her outstanding contribution and service to the game and her fellow players. The award was presented to her at the ASB Rugby Awards on Sky Television last night. Melodie’s passion and commitment to rugby is long-standing and it has seen her continually advocate and lobby in the sport globally for the rights of players, with a focus on the women’s game an important part to her.
The double World Cup winning flanker has represented New Zealand in both 15s and sevens, and having had a distinguished career on the field, she continues to give back to the game through her various governance roles. These range from the grassroots – with her old club College Rifles – to the highest level of the international professional game with her 2020 appointment to the Rugby World Cup Limited Board as an International Rugby Players’ representative alongside Brian O’Driscoll.
The mother of two has been a ground-breaker in many aspects of her life, and her former Black Ferns teammate Anna Richards expects nothing less from Melodie. “She is a highly intelligent woman who is driven and has made it through her hard work and sheer bloody-mindedness. She has picked areas that are not easy for women to do well in and she is excelling. Mel is amazing. She was combative on the field and fun off the field and she’s a great friend to me. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to know her as long as I have,” Richards said.
As a proud Ngāi Tahu wāhine, Melodie’s journalism career began in the parliamentary press gallery in Wellington, but over time her enthusiasm for sports reporting grew and she became the online sports producer for xtramsn.co.nz.
Throughout her career, Melodie has been a continual game-changer, often in challenging circumstances. In 2003, she became the first female rugby commentator and host working for Sky Sports. In her role there, she covered multiple Rugby World Cups, 14 years of Super Rugby, numerous NPC fixtures, the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, Women’s Sevens and netball. Her commentary work has paved the way for other female broadcasters including fellow players.
Former Sevens star and colleague, Karl Te Nana, who has known Melodie since her days in the Black Ferns and has worked with her on screen, said, “I think Mel’s competitive nature on the field has translated to her achievements off it.
“To effect change, you have to be prepared to put yourself out there regardless of the consequences and, despite many obstacles laid out in front of her at every corner, she has gained a seat at the top table. She not only is a leader but also a source of inspiration for women, our sport and our Māori and Pasfika people.”
While working full-time with Sky Sports, Melodie completed a post-graduate diploma at the University of Auckland, to complement her degree in physical education from the University of Otago and her journalism qualifications.
Her passion for women’s sports saw her invited to take part in a global sports mentoring programme with ESPN in the USA in 2016 after which she went on to complete an MBA at the University of Auckland. As her career flourished, she transitioned into a communications role at SKY TV. While there, she also established The Wonderful Group in order to foster diversity and encourage more women to advance within sports media. She also became the first New Zealander to have a role-model Barbie made in her likeness.
As Melodie’s career continued to progress, she was appointed TVNZ’s General Manager, Sport and Events in 2019, the same year she began her tenure on the World Rugby Player of the Year voting panel.
NZRPA Chairman David Kirk MBE, after whom the award is named, said of the former player, coach, mentor and advocate for change: “Unlike most sports awards, this award does not recognise sporting ability or achievements. It recognises a commitment to serve the game and all its constituents after the playing career has ended. Melodie was a wonderful and influential player and is an even more wonderful and influential leader and servant of the game in all sorts of ways today. She is the perfect recipient.”
Upon learning she was the 2021 recipient of the prestigious Kirk Award, Melodie was surprised. “I’m feeling extremely humbled by this award – David Kirk was my hero when I was a kid, so to have him ring me to let me know was quite a treat.
“To be honest with you, all the bits and pieces I’m doing – whether it be coaching my son’s team or representing players at RWCL or board work for College Rifles and the Rugby Foundation – is essentially because I love rugby.
“I just want to make sure that the next generation gets to enjoy the game that has changed and continues to improve my life.”
Award history: The NZRPA Kirk Award was established in 2005 and named after NZRPA founding chairman and former All Black captain David Kirk MBE. Kirk led the All Blacks to their first Rugby World Cup title in 1987.
Previous recipients include Conrad Smith, Richie McCaw and Tana Umaga, in recognition of their off-field roles in helping to establish the commercial and employment partnership between the players and the game's administrators, which has underpinned the professional rugby environment and achievements ever since. 2016 recipient – Justin Collins 2017 recipient – DJ Forbes 2018 recipients – Fiao’o Fa’amausili and Keven Mealamu 2019 recipients – Josh Blackie, Hale T-Pole and Seilala Mapusua 2020 recipient – Andy Ellis
Award name The NZRPA Kirk Award was named after the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association Chairman David Kirk. Former All Black, David Kirk, captained the All Blacks to their first Rugby World Cup title in 1987. A medical doctor, Rhodes Scholar and former advisor to the Prime Minister, David was awarded an MBE in 1988 for services to rugby. The former Fairfax Media CEO and Chairman of TradeMe, Kathmandu and Forsyth Barr sits on several boards, is a trustee of several charities and is the co-founder and partner of Bailador Investment Management. The author of two books, David was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2011. Unknown to many, David has served as the Chairman of the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association since its establishment in 1999, and this award is named in recognition of his outstanding, selfless contribution and leadership in this regard.
Melodie was a wonderful and influential player and is an even more wonderful and influential leader and servant of the game in all sorts of ways today. She is the perfect recipient - David Kirk NZRPA Chairman