Earlier this week, the Australian Wallaroos announced their new head coach Jay Tregonning.
Last week World Rugby formally ratified a recommendation to postpone the Women’s Rugby World Cup, which was scheduled to take place in Auckland from 18 September until 16 October 2021. The tournament will now be held in 2022.
Your expectation may be that this postponement would result in disappointment for the players involved, but for Australian Wallaroos squad member Arabella McKenzie the postponement presents an opportunity.
“For a lot of us the postponement of the World Cup isn’t really a big deal,” says McKenzie. “It’s just another year that we can work together as a group and push toward our goal of winning a World Cup.
“This decision is only going to benefit us and give us more time to prepare and get ready.”
For McKenzie, her commitment to the Wallaroos and her goal of competing at the Rugby World Cup has meant that she has put a pause on playing rugby league.
McKenzie grew up in Lightning Ridge in a family of rugby league tragics. Her cousin, Australian Wallaby Ned Hanigan, grew up in the neighbouring suburb of Coonamble.
“I’m a die-hard rugby league fan and I grew up watching and playing,” she says. “I’m a St George Illawarra fan and it was ingrained in us from when we were born – if you didn’t support St George, you had to find somewhere else to live.”
McKenzie played rugby league growing up, but unfortunately – as is the story for so many women of her generation – she McKenzie had to stop playing when she was 12. Unfortunately at that time when a girl reached the age of 12 she could no longer play alongside the boys. That meant that her only two options were playing with women much older than her in the open competition or giving up footy.
McKenzie chose the latter.
Fortunately McKenzie found her way to rugby sevens when she was in boarding school. Following the success of the Australian women’s sevens team at the Rio Olympics, McKenzie started playing sevens and then also began playing rugby. In 2019 she made a decision to focus on her rugby and her rugby league, which meant that in 2020 McKenzie was juggling her commitments to the Waratahs in Super W, the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NRLW and the Australian Wallaroos.
This was a challenge.
“I did both rugby league and rugby union last year and felt mediocre at both,” McKenzie says. “I can’t give 100 per cent to both at the same time, and because of the World Cup, I want to commit to rugby this year and next year too.
“I’m not ruling out a return to rugby league, but at the moment my focus is really rugby union and making that World Cup team.”
Now that the decision has been made to postpone the Rugby World Cup, the Wallaroos have some certainty about how their schedule will look in 2021 and 2022.
The Wallaroos preparation for that World Cup continued last week in Canberra, with the team’s opening camp of the year. In lieu of a World Cup, a revised program and Test match schedule for 2021 is being considered for the team.
But for many of the women in the team the chance to actually play rugby again is an exciting opportunity.
“We are all just looking forward to playing rugby again and getting some game time,” McKenzie says. “I haven’t played a game since November and we are getting sick of bashing each other at training.
“We started training with the Wallaroos at the end of last year, had four weeks off at the end of last year and then got straight back into it. We just want to play rugby.”
That chance is not too far away.
While timing for Super W has not been confirmed yet, the expectation is that the competition will take place in the middle of the year. In fact as soon as McKenzie returns from Wallaroos camp her training with the Waratahs will commence for Super W.
The news that the competition will be taking place is reassuring for fans of Super W given the concern about the impact that COVID-19 would have on women’s rugby in Australia.
As the game continues to grow and develop, many of the players continue to juggle their rugby commitments with the rest of their lives.
For McKenzie, this is inspiring, particularly the women in the Wallaroos and Waratahs team who have children.
“We still aren’t seeing enough celebration of women in sport,” McKenzie says. “All my teammates are amazing, especially the mums in the team. Those mums leave their kids while they are in camp, juggle family responsibilities and some of them work full time or study as well.
“I am in awe of them.”