A fair bit has changed for Yasmin Meakes in the last 276 days.
That’s when the Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens young gun played her first game in the AON Uni 7s series, representing the University of Canberra in Tasmania – a tournament which was her first ever in the sport!
Now she’s a national representative, having made her World Rugby Sevens series debut in Kitakyushu (Japan) six weeks ago and backing up in Langford (Canada). It’s a meteoric rise, but one the 24-year-old was ready for after earning previous representative honours in other sports.
“I grew up in Newcastle and started playing Touch Football when I was twelve, and then I earned selection to play for Australia at Under 18s level,” Meakes explained to RUPA. “From there, I also earned selection in the Australian Mixed team for the 2015 Touch Football World Cup in Coffs Harbour, where we won the tournament.
“I’d made my debut when I was nineteen, and while the Mixed team is generally seen as a stepping stone before playing in the open women’s team I actually really enjoyed it because I found it quicker and a bit more physical.
“My mum used to get a bit bothered that I wanted to play Mixed, as it is a lot more physical, but everyone knew that I was a physical player myself so then moving into a contact sport in the last couple of years was something that people could always see me doing.”
Last year Meakes moved to Canberra with her partner, former NRL star Adam Clydesdale, and signed up to play Rugby League for the first time with the Queanbeyan Blues. Success soon followed, as she was adjudged best on ground in their winning Grand Final team, played for the Canberra Raiders women’s side and was selected in the NSW Country squad; only to again swap sports, and this time to Rugby!
“In Canberra there’s such a massive Rugby culture,” she explains. “I played for the Brumbies at the Women’s XV nationals, and from there it was an easy transition into Rugby Sevens for the University of Canberra in the AON series.
“The timing has been really fortunate in that all of the different codes have had new competitions in the last couple of years, and the hardest thing has actually been to pick between League, XVs Rugby and Rugby Sevens. From the moment I started playing Sevens I loved it.
“I feel like there is so much more opportunity with Sevens to travel around the world and play in this amazing competition, and the competition is so fierce – I love it. Being a fourteen-minute game, I love the intensity and the fact that you’re on edge the entire time.”
Quickly standing out during the AON series, Meakes leant on her experienced teammates Cassie Staples and Sharni Williams as she looked to turn her experience into an opportunity to play for Australia.
“I learnt so much in such a short space of time from Cassie and Sharni,” Meakes said. “Sharni really made me realise that I am capable of doing this and playing at this level, and Cassie really supported me too and just urged me to believe in myself.”
Meakes’ form was rewarded with selection to play a series of friendly matches in October, but the dates clashed with the wedding of friends Brodee and Frank-Paul Nu’uausala, the Sydney Roosters star. It left her with an incredibly tough decision to make.
“I was going to have to turn down the selection, but Sharni convinced me that it was my shot and I had to take it. I ended up doing that, played well and earned my part-time development contract – it has been such an amazing opportunity, and I’m so grateful to Sharni who has helped me such on this journey!
“And my friends, being from the sporting world, were very understanding of me missing the wedding and understood completely that these opportunities only come so often and that when they come you have to take them, so it all worked out well!”
Now, Meakes and her partner (who retired from the NRL) are living back in Newcastle and she juggles training commitments with her job as a high school teacher at St. Paul’s in Booragul, spending one week every month in Sydney and trying to get down for training an additional day every week when possible.
“(The school) are very supportive of my Rugby and understanding around my availability, but obviously I can’t commit to a full-time contract at the school so I’m casual at the moment.
“The idea of being a professional Rugby player wasn’t on my radar a couple of years ago, but now I definitely want to get a full-time contract.”
Meakes’ rapid rise culminated in her World Series debut, and now she’s looking forward to pushing for selection in the final tournament of the year (Paris) as well as the Rugby Sevens World Cup in San Francisco before another AON series.
“It was unbelievable making my debut,” she said. “(Head Coach) John (Manenti) called me before the Commonwealth Games and said he was probably going to take me to Japan as thirteenth player, and I was so excited to just travel with the team, but then with a couple of injuries sustained on the Gold Coast I got the chance to debut alongside Loz Brown.
“That was just perfect and so exciting, as we’re on the same type of contract and have been working so hard together. It was a phenomenal experience to get to share it with her, and then I actually started the first game there which meat I bypassed a lot of the nerves because I had to get straight into it. For the rest of the year I just want to be a consistent player and try to bring more power to my game and keep pushing hard for a position in the team.
“I can’t wait for the extra game time you get from the AON. You can replicate it at training but it’s not the same. The standard is going to rise again so much because of the publicity of the first season, so I think more and more girls will be wanting to play, and that’s so exciting.”
Fast Four with Yasmin Meakes:
Worst singer in the team: Page McGregor
Teammate to watch for the rest of the season: Evania Pelite
Hardest-working Teammate: Alicia Quirk
Sporting Hero as a Kid: Brad Fittler
Yasmin Meakes Fact File:
World Rugby Sevens Series Debut: Kitakyushu, Japan, April 21st, 2018