Rebels look to youth for Super W 2019 and beyond

At Super Rugby level, the Rebels men deal with agents and salary caps, but for Thomas it was dealing with teenagers and parents.

This year’s side has an average age of about 25 and a number of teenagers, some as young as 17, will play in the side this season starting at Box Hill Rugby Club on Sunday when the Rebels host Queensland Reds at 3pm.

«They all love it,» Thomas said.

«The girls who are playing just love rugby, they come from rugby families and a lot of them have older brothers playing in the men’s comps.

«We watched more of the youth games. It’s a bit weird going up to players and asking, ‘where’s your parents? Let’s have a chat with them.’

«But this is one of those things where a lot of the girls wouldn’t put themselves forward unless we came and tapped them on the shoulder.»

One of the newcomers is playmaker Liana Pritchard-Matamua who helped Uni Panthers to the Victorian women’s title last year and, at 18, will spend time at five-eighth this season.

Super W captains Meretiana Robinson, Mhicca Carter, Michelle Milward, Lori Cramer and Ash Hewson.

Super W captains Meretiana Robinson, Mhicca Carter, Michelle Milward, Lori Cramer and Ash Hewson. Credit:AAP

A Latrobe University criminology student, Pritchard-Matamua has been around rugby since her oldest brother joined Northern Panthers at an under-6s level.

Originally she was a goal attack in netball but once her club established a girls sevens team in 2016 she swapped codes and hasn’t looked back.

«I was around there for a long time just watching and helping out around the club,» Pritchard-Matamua said.

«Then when my two younger brothers got into rugby everyone was too busy to take me to my netball games so when the youth girls team started in 2016 that’s when I started rugby.»

Last year Pritchard-Matamua played her first season of women’s 15-a-side rugby and was thrown into five-eighth, one of the game’s more difficult roles, due to her natural assertiveness.

«They just chucked me into No.10 because they thought it would be a good fit,» Pritchard-Matamua said.

«It turns out it was. That was how I got to 10 and I haven’t moved basically.»

At Rebels trials and in training camp she impressed Thomas during tactical talks with the coach describing her as having «an old head on young shoulders».

There is still a noticeable chasm between the player depth in women’s rugby and 15-a-side opportunities in NSW and Queensland and those in other states.

Last year the Waratahs and Reds played off in the grand final and that may not change any time soon but, with more programs in schools and a focus on youth, Thomas is confident her players will gradually bridge that gap.

Pritchard-Matamua will start on the bench on Sunday and the Rebels will look to the likes of co-captains Meretiana Robinson and Sharlene Fagalilo along with promising lock May Sa’aga to lead the way.

Pritchard-Matamua said her family, and her dad especially, were «stoked» when she made the Rebels and, like many of her teammates, she expects a big turn-out by loved ones on Sunday.

The Rebels hosted a joint season launch for Super Rugby and Super W earlier this month.

Pritchard-Matamua was chosen to speak for the women’s side and introduce all the players but a delay with the presentation left her making an impromptu speech about the season in front of Wallabies royalty and Rugby Australia officials.

She took it in her stride and that adaptation will be needed on-field this season, but these tastes of elite sport have the players excited about the future.

«Things like the shared launch makes us all feel pretty good and it gets everyone excited for what is to come and what rugby can lead to,» she said.

Rebels team for round one: 1. Janita Kareta, 2. Sharlene Fagalilo, 3. Titilia Yabaki, 4. Georgia Bradbery,  5. May Sa’aga, 6. Brooke Moselen, 7. Alice Tonumaivao, 8. Carmen Landkauf, 9. Wynonah Conway, 10. Tauala Hunt, 11. Tyra Boysen-Auimatagi, 12. Tangata Tupou, 13. Courtney Frankl, 14. Belle Hunt, 15. Meretiana Robinson. Reserves: 16. Ashley Marsters, 17. Faith Masina, 18. Tuputausi Sae, 19. Tiarah Minns, 20. Yvonne Callaghan, 21. Jessie Treherne, 22. Liana Pritchard-Matamua, 23. Georgia Page.

Roy Ward is a Sports writer for The Age.

Most Viewed in Sport





You may also like...