Last year, Ben O’Donnell’s friends and family took over a bay of Allianz Stadium as the aptly-named BOD Squad for the Sydney Sevens, but in 2019 you might need to keep an eye out for the McGregor Massive or Page’s Posse at Spotless Stadium.
That’s because 19-year-old playmaker Page McGregor is Western Sydney born and bred, a true local in every sense of the word, and this week’s tournament doubles as her first ever on home soil.
“I was born at Bankstown Hospital and was raised there, and in Chester Hill, and now I’m living in Yagoona,” she says proudly. “It’s so perfect that the tournament is basically going to be in my backyard; as soon as I heard that it was going to be held at Spotless Stadium, I decided that I needed to work really hard to make the team.”
McGregor made her World Series debut in Dubai in 2017, playing in most tournaments since but not the 2018 Sydney Sevens or Commonwealth Games onwekend the Gold Coast.
“I didn’t get selected for last year’s Sydney Sevens or Comm Games, so the opportunity to play at home this week is what I have really been wanting and striving for. I said to the coaches at the start of the year that although it’s great to play in different countries around the world, nothing compares to playing at home in front of your friends, family and fans.
“I couldn’t ask for more, it’s the best feeling, and I am so excited and really looking forward to it. My family haven’t seen me play live for Australia before except on television and I’ve got heaps of people coming to support me, and I know some of them have already started making posters!”
Cheering for Page is still somewhat strange for Page’s parents, who are both from Auckland, and for her older sister Rae, who plays Rugby League for New Zealand. Rae and Page are only eighteen months apart, and at one stage it looked a genuine possibility both would wear Gold together.
“We both played soccer with the boys growing up from a young age, and then once we got a bit older, we changed over and started playing touch football together,” Page explains. “From there we went down the Rugby Sevens path, and she went to the Youth Olympics and Youth Commonwealth Games with the Australian Sevens team, before ultimately, she decided to head across to Rugby League.
“When we first started playing Rugby Sevens with Maroubra Magic there weren’t a lot of competitions to play in, and although we’d get selected together to go to training camps for the youth Australian teams, I was always too young to be considered for actual selection.”
While Rae decided to switch across to the thirteen-women code, Page stuck with Sevens and with the arrival of the inaugural AON Uni 7s series in 2017 she finally had the chance to strut her stuff on the big stage.
“When the AON series arrive, I felt like I finally had a platform to showcase my game against and alongside the more experienced girls in the country,” she said. “After that, I was selected as Captain of the Australian team for the Youth Commonwealth Games in the Bahamas (2017). (Then Australian Women’s Head Coach) Tim Walsh was watching me play in those tournaments and I was getting seen a bit more and showing what I’ve got, and from training with the squad a little bit I was lucky enough to earn my first contract.”
Playing alongside Page in the Bahamas was fellow teenager Lily Dick, now a teammate in the Australian side and also preparing for her first home tournament this week, and while Page admits to still pinching herself about how rapidly it has all progressed, she’s also quite bullish about the need to perform strongly in the absence of regulars Charlotte Caslick, Emilee Cherry and Shannon Parry.
“I never would have guessed it could happen this quickly, and I still pinch myself every morning when I wake up that this is my job; it’s literally a dream come true.
“Eighteen months ago, Lily and I were representing our country at youth level and that in itself was a dream, but I thought any chance to play on the World Series would still be another year or two away. I am living the dream.
“This week is a really good opportunity for myself, Lily and Sariah Paki especially. Lily and Sariah are coming off their first World Series tournament in Dubai, and as the youngest ones we need to show that we can step up in without those three.
“The beauty of Charlotte, Chez and Shannon is that we know that they will be there to help us every step of the way in what we do, because it’s a type of pressure (playing on home soil) that we haven’t experienced before, but I’m confident we can perform strongly.”
With Parry out, the number of Aussies wearing headgear is down to just two; Co-Captain Sharni Williams, and the formerly reluctant McGregor.
“I never wore it growing up, but I got knocked out in Noosa a couple of years ago so at the next tournament they said they would only pick me if I wore it. I was pretty hesitant because I didn’t think I liked it, but then I found I really enjoy it and it feels a lot safer so ever since then I just do it. Whenever we do contact at training, I put it on, I just feel safer.”
Taking on new experiences and seeing how they go is something Page is keen to do away from footy as well, working with (soon to depart) RUPA Rugby Sevens Player Development Manager (PDM) Gina Rees to find something to focus upon from a study perspective.
“I think it is really important to make sure your whole life doesn’t revolve around Rugby, because anything could happen, and you want to make sure you can fall back on something. It’s also so important to make sure Rugby doesn’t rule your life and you can take your mind off it.
“The last few weeks, I have been working with Gina and we’re looking at finding the right Sports and Recreation Management course for me to sink my teeth into. It’s something I think I would really enjoy, and I’d love to learn how to promote the game. Last year I was just focused on getting involved and settled with the team, and then this year is the chance for me to invest in that off-field area.”
RUPA employs a PDM within every professional Rugby program in Australia, with applications currently open for the role at both the NSW Waratahs and Australian Rugby Sevens, and according to Page it is a critical role within the team dynamic.
“It’s so important to have a PDM in there, because I can talk to them about a whole range of things. Gina and I have worked on goal setting, both on field for Rugby and away from it, and I can always call her or go and see her if I need support or advice about anything.
“I have really enjoyed having her on my side to help me with things from home and just seeing how I am. It works really well to have somebody independent, who isn’t a teammate or a coach but does completely understand the program and what’s going on, so it will be sad to see her go.”
Australian Women’s Squad, 2019 Sydney Sevens:
1. Samantha Treherne
2. Sharni Williams (C)
3. Sariah Paki
4. Dominque Du Toit
5. Emma Tonegato
6. Evania Pelite
7. Yasmin Meakes
8. Lily Dick
9. Emma Sykes
10. Alicia Quirk
11. Page McGregor
12. Ellia Green