By Jen Gourley
Two players from the Biloela Rugby Union Club have been selected for the Queensland Country Rugby Union Orchids.
Earlier this month, along with coach Josh Harris, four Cockatiels – Shannon Spratt, Isabella Gunnourie, Elly May and Rowen Massurit – headed down to Toowoomba to represent Central Queensland at the 2022 Queensland Country Championships.
Playing in tough conditions, Elly, 30, and Rowen (Ro), 26, caught the eye of the selectors and were chosen for the Orchids squad.
For both Elly and Ro, the path to the Orchids was a challenge, starting with the CQ trials.
“We had trials for 15s, which neither of us had ever played before the trial,” Elly said. “We played our first two games in Rocky, and all our local clubs put together a team. They just combined all the Sevens teams together to make two teams. It’s from Bundy up to Mackay out to Emerald, and in between. So, we played the two trials, made the squad and then we travelled down to Toowoomba and played three games. We played against North Queensland, South Queensland, and then a Brisbane team. We unfortunately lost all our games but, for us, those were our first five 15s games, and for a lot of the other girls it was also their first 15s. It’s the first time CQ’s ever had an open women’s team at the Queensland country trials so that was a pretty big move.”
As Elly and Rowe warmed up for their team game against Frenchville at last Saturday’s Ladies Day, it was clear how happy and excited they were about this wonderful achievement.
“It was a great opportunity to go down and then be selected for the Queensland Country Orchids,” Ro said.
“It was only our fifth game and we both really had no idea what we were doing.” (Ro and Elly both laugh at this.)
So, when the pair found out very late last Thursday night that they had been selected for the Orchids, it was a delightful surprise for them.
“They were meant to announce the teams on Wednesday, so there was a bit of waiting. Did we make it, did we not?” Ro said. “I was very shocked, very excited. I’m really happy to be playing with Elly, that’s for sure.”
Central Queensland is well represented in this year’s Orchids squad with five players selected from the region – Elly, Ro, two players from Rockhampton and one from Gladstone.
“I think we’ve also got three in the shadow, so that’s pretty impressive for CQ, considering Northern Queensland and Southern Queensland all have way more experience with 15s,” Ro said.
“Sevens is predominantly what we play in our region, so it would be good to get a few more 15 comps going and get more interest. It’s just such a different game, just completely different, so it’s a lot to pick up.
“We’re really looking forward to finding out some more details of when and where we’re playing and get a few people down to support us.”
Elly explained that they would be playing with the Orchids in Brisbane later in the year, possibly at the end of September/start of October
“We will play all the Brisbane Premier League clubs. I think it’s about four or five games over a week and a half and then we have a little training camp before that and in between. So it will be really good just to play with different people. There’s a lot of experienced girls in the squad and then the girls that we’ll play against – they play 15s every weekend at a high level so it will be really great.”
Elly usually plays the position of inside centre and Ro plays loose head prop. Ro came back from Toowoomba covered in scratches and scrapes, thanks in part to the weather and also to the physicality of 15s games.
“Ro is very messed up because of all the contact,” Elly said, pointing to the state of her friend’s legs. “It’s such heavy contact football compared to Sevens and because it was wet and muddy and a lot of the girls wore metal tags. Our team didn’t know about that … none of us had metal tags. So, we were stumbling around a lot more and that’s why Rowen’s legs are scratched a lot.”
“It was definitely like a really gruelling, challenging three days down in Toowoomba,” Ro said. “The weather was not kind to us, about 10-11 degrees.
“It was pouring rain our first game. The second game it wasn’t raining but it was wet and the mud was really thick because all the seniors games were on the one field. So there would be about five games a day on that field. And then the last day it was thick, thick fog and I think it was below 10 degrees and you could only just see the end of the field. Every day was so different.
“It was a real challenge compared to CQ where we typically play in beautiful sunshine like this and on a really dry field. Definitely contrasting conditions that we weren’t prepared for. But still, it was really great to be able to go and play and get selected into the Queensland Country team.
“I’m really excited to see where it takes us and how much more we can keep playing.”
Pressure and pride
Cockatiels coach Josh Harris is also excited for Elly and Ro.
“I’m very proud,” he said. “The two girls representing Bilo rugby, RCL (Rugby Capricornia Ltd) and CQ, it’s pretty special and pretty awesome. Just to watch Ellie come through and really, well, she’s a veteran. She’s the one that all the players look up to, she’s the one that makes us get going forward. And then Ro – for someone that’s only been playing for a couple of years now and she’s been really working hard and in the middle, and then to go out and play three 80-minute games – that’s something special.”
Josh acknowledged what a change it was for the pair to play in the different format of 15s.
“Going from a Sevens comp, to just starting their first ever 15s career and then playing representative football at that as well … it’s totally different. The space isn’t there like they’re used to in Sevens, and also just the physicality around the ruck and scrummaging for Ro. It’s pretty cool.”
He thinks it’s also pretty cool that Elly and Ro are taking their game to the next level.
“They’re coming from the Queensland Country trials where that competition was really strong. And I know that next level, again, with being in that Orchids jersey … that expectation’s a lot higher so that there’s a bit of pressure as well, and a bit of pride. Then playing against a higher-level player while representing the Queensland countryside … they’ll know it, I think.”