This is a slightly edited version of a speech delivered at a Sport Council Award ceremony by a young Tribe7s player a few weeks ago. Names have been removed, not because anyone wanted to remain anonymous, but because I thought it told a generic story, it could be a story told by Alicia Quirk or Emilee Cherry or Georgie Friedrichs or in a city setting by Charlotte Caslick or Shannon Parry. It is a story about a young lady’s rise from age 12 to 18 in the sport we love and it touches to very core of what we set out to do three ‘long’ years ago. We had great senior players in Rebecca Tavo, Nicole Beck, Sao Saemo & Shontelle Stowers take some young pups under their wings 3 years ago and they helped them be better players. This player has unknowingly done the same job with an emerging group of even younger players. She was exposed to the expectations and standards set by the likes of Charlotte Caslick, Vani Pelite & Georgie Friedrichs and was able to bring those experiences back to share with a group of 15 & 16 year olds. Most importantly, it’s simply a story worth sharing.
My rugby career started at my rural New South Wales high school six years ago when I was introduced to the game by a passionate PE teacher. It was my first year of high school. It was here I was taught the fundamentals of the game and thrown straight into the open age team. My touch football background helped, but the fact you had a heartbeat was the main prerequisite for making the team.
I was a fresh-faced year seven student and my first game was at a gala day in Tamworth (for our international readers, Tamworth is Australia’s country music capital). I was put out on the wing and my mother was videoing the games, so everything that follows is consigned to digital archive as evidence. In one of the first tackles my jersey is ripped off and I am left standing there in my bra. Most of the frames immediately following were aimed at the sky and I thought mum was trying to protect me from further embarrassment. No chance, she could not contain her laughter and lost control of the camera. I composed myself deciding there and then that I am never playing this game again and came up with a strategy to deal with the there & then to get me through the tournament – I told myself, ‘if you get the ball just run as fast as you can, it is a far better option than being tackled.’ That’s what I did, we won the day and I managed to be top try scorer. Little did anyone know it was because I was too embarrassed to lose my jumper again.
So my love of rugby began there in Tamworth. I played every year at high school and was selected in the first North West Rugby 7s team. I was lucky enough to do that through to this year, when I captained our Open team to their first ever State championships win. The feeling of playing with those girls from year seven through to winning that championship is a memory I will treasure forever.
Last year whilst playing at a tournament on the Gold Coast, I was approached by Charlotte Caslick, Australian player and Rio Olympic gold medallist. She took my details back to the Australian management and I was also contacted to join the Tribe 7’s invitational Rugby side that tour the Australian and International circuit. They are a very highly regarded rugby team with the aim of developing future Olympians.
It is with Tribe 7s where my rugby has really been taken to another level, having the opportunity to play with elite players. I played numerous tournaments with them last season taking out Helensvale 7s, Lake Macquarie 7s, but the highlight being the Hottest 7s in the World, played in Darwin. Yes the name fits the extreme humidity which is something that really can’t be explained. I was given the opportunity to play alongside Charlotte Caslick who in my opinion is the best player in the world and Evania Pelite, both Rio Olympic gold medallists, also Mahalia Murphy, Taleena Simon and Georgie Friedrichs, all Australian contracted players. The experience and exposure was something that I will be forever grateful for. We took out this carnival undefeated with 297 points for and nil against.
The Tribe7s guys took a chance on a little unknown from the county by giving me this opportunity to be in this elite side and I cannot thank them enough for this. They said it was their philosophy to give young players the opportunity to play at the highest possible level with more experienced players, but you don’t believe it until it happens, especially when you come from a little town in north western New South Wales.
This year still with Tribe7s I was given the honour to captain their under 18s in my first overseas tournament in New Caledonia, where we took out the Noumea 7s final over a New Zealand team in the final. Touring and two day tournaments make rugby 7s a unique sport. It’s more than a sport, you become part of a big family with many shared experiences and lessons learned. Lesson one of international touring for me, whilst New Caledonia is extremely beautiful and the people are awesome, it is safer to drink bottled water. I will leave that one with you.
The friendships and bonds with the players on these tours is something special. At full time of the final, the Fijian girls ran out on the field in tears of joy to celebrate with us. We had taken a squad of 15 and 3 of our girls volunteered to play with the Fijians who were short of numbers. We left Australia with a squad of 15, we were now a squad of 24, all winners and a true testament to what is great about the game of rugby.
Last month I again was given the privilege to captain the Tribe7s under 18 side to win the Noosa International 7s. This was then capped off with the honour to be named Tribe7s Rookie of the Year at their annual presentation; icing on the cake to what I still can’t believe has been a whirlwind of a year.
I began my state representation playing for the NSW Youth team at Nationals last year in Wagga Wagga where we finished runners up to old enemies the QLD Reds. (I suppose I should call them frenemies now, such is the cross-border nature of the Tribe7s set-up.) I was then invited to join the NSW Blue Belle program where this year I will play in the open division under coach Nathan McMahon. I am currently staying in Sydney training with the squad in preparation before heading to Adelaide next weekend for the National Championships. The program gives country kids the opportunity to be exposed to the training program that is expected of an elite rugby player whilst still living in their home town under the guidance of a satellite coach.
I was selected earlier in the year to attend two development camps in Narrabeen as part of the Youth Australian squad. Here, I set myself my first goal of making the cut for the second camp. We were put through fitness testing, games, drills, psychometric testing, and nutritional lectures. After this, I received an email that I had made the second camp, and a new goal was set to make the final 12 with a seat on that plane to New Zealand. Whilst on the bus with my high school team mates, where it all started, after watching the Aussie girls win gold in Rio huddled around an iPad pulled over at a servo, I received a call and was told that I had made the final 12 to travel to New Zealand in December as part of the Australian Youth team to play in the World Schools 7s. Opportunities are given to people that work hard and I love the NSW selection criteria where they will take someone that works hard and backs up their team mates over someone with talent but is lazy. You can see that those values are shared in the Aussie 7s set up. I was lucky enough to train and play a few tournaments with Georgie Friedrichs. Her work ethic on and off the pitch is inspirational. Alicia Quirk’s attitude is legendary, she played every minute of the Olympic tournament. Both are country girls.
In my household laziness is not an option, both my parents, who are my greatest supporters, have been with me every step of the way. I have the advantage, or sometimes disadvantage, of having a fitness crazed mother who has me up training in rain, hail or shine. She thinks going on a holiday for a fun run is great, whilst my dad thinks fun and run should never be in the same sentence. We have worked side by side through all of this and I would not be where I am today without them both. Leaving work on Friday for a tournament in Brisbane or Sydney, driving hours, then back to work again, is done without a second thought. Success comes not only from hard work it also comes from the support team around you and I have been fortunate to have some very dedicated people in the area supporting women in rugby.
The pathways into women’s rugby are exceptional and it is only going to get better after the success of our women in Rio, so if you are considering taking it up I say give it a go, because no matter your limitations or excuses, opportunity is out there for those that want it.