Q. Are you looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd tomorrow and on the weekend at the Sydney Sevens?
A. I’m really looking forward to having a home tournament, it’s the first time for me since I’ve been playing in Australia that I’ve been able to play a big tournament on home soil. It’s a dream come true.
Q. What do you love about Rugby 7s?
A. I love the freedom of Rugby 7s, you’ve still got the physicality of the 15s games, the rucks, but it’s just so exciting and entertaining, it’s a lot easier to watch. It’s more brutal on the body and it’s so fast. So it challenges you to the pinnacle – you push your body harder than you ever do in your everyday life.
Q. How did you start playing footy?
A. I was 17 when I started playing. I went to get my brother from the local footy club and was introduced to two Wallaroos. They kind of said jokingly, come down and play football. I said, “Oh, I don’t think so.” I’d always watched Rugby from a very young age but never thought I’d play. I grew up in Brisbane, so I followed the Queensland Reds and the Brisbane Broncos. And I’d played hockey growing up. But then they texted me that week and said, “We’ve got training this week, why don’t you come down?” I thought, I’ll give it a go, but I was too young, because you can’t play till you turn 18. So I went down to two sessions and thought, this is really good. It was a great family culture, they made me feel welcome. Those two took me under their wing. I was lucky to have good mentors. I wasn’t able to play for them that year, but the following year, I gave it a go. Two years later I made my 15s debut in London in the World Cup.
Q. How did winning gold at the Rio Olympics 2016 feel?
A. I guess for me it was a childhood dream. I remember very fondly Cathy Freeman winning her 400 gold medal in Sydney, and I thought, that’d be amazing if you could do that one day. And then we were lucky enough to come professional athletes and win a gold medal. Our whole lives have changed and we’ve been part of creating history, winning the first ever women’s gold medal is something we’ll cherish for the rest of our lives.
Q. Have you noticed a rise in the popularity of the sport lately?
A. Yes, off the back of our Olympic gold medal, we’ve seen an increase in grassroots programs for the Australian Rugby through VIVA7s and Game On. We’d go to clinics before and the young girls there wouldn’t know who you were, but now, off the back of the Olympics, they’re like, “Oh Shannon, can you sign this for me?” That led to a lot of development in the game. It is the fastest growing sport in Australia, women’s rugby in general.
Q. Do you think we’re at a point where women’s sport in general is taking off?
A. Yes, I think in terms of WBBL, the AFL and those that have taken off, it’s a testament to the sponsors that have come on board and said, you know what, we’re going to back women’s sport and see what happens. You can see with the WBBL [Women’s Big Bash League cricket], just in two years, how far that’s come, and how much support, sponsorship… They’re getting 10,000 people to a game now, and that’s phenomenal for a sport that, same as us, is traditionally male dominated. It’s great to see the big corporate sponsors putting their money where their mouth is, treating males and females equally.
Q. It’s fantastic that you’re a full-time professional footballer and you don’t have to worry about having a job on the side…
A. Yes, we’re very lucky that we get to solely focus on Rugby. We went full-time in January 2014 to become professional athletes to chase that dream of winning an Olympic gold medal. The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) made a decision that if we were going to go and win a gold medal and be competitive, we need to go 110 per cent to achieve that goal. Without their support, we wouldn’t have come away with that gold medal in Rio. We get a fair bit of funding from the ARU, they give us a salary, and we also get money from the Australian Olympic Committee, from their direct athlete support. I haven’t taught for three years now, which is something I dearly miss but we’re very lucky that we get the financial support to solely concentrate on Rugby and not have to worry about things like, ‘can I afford to put petrol in my car?’ We get well supported and looked after, which we’re very thankful for.
Q. Rugby 7s is a rough sport – how do you prepare yourself mentally for that type of physical contact?
A. I guess me growing up with an older brother, and we were always playing backyard footy, and I think it’s something that you sort of grow into. I always liked to be that little bit more aggressive and physical, whereas some of the other girls, they’re a bit hesitant, when they first came into the program, to tackle. That was Charlotte Caslick four or five years ago, now she’s the best swooper in the game and no one gets around her. So it’s definitely something you have to adapt to playing a contact sport. Because for females it’s not something that I guess comes naturally. It’s something you’ve got to mentally apply yourself to be able to do it. We work on the ratio that tackling is 20 per cent technique and 80 per cent attitude.
Q. What’s your training schedule?
A. At the moment we train four days a week, pretty much all day. Wednesday is a recovery day and Mondays and Thursdays are generally heavy days in terms of loading on the body.
Q. What do you do in your downtime?
A. I love the beach, I love to surf. I call it my Zen zone, where I get away from rugby. You can just be out there for an hour or two catching waves and just listening to the ocean and not having to worry about rugby. The brain is clear and you can enjoy the moment.
Q. What would you say to a woman wanting to try out playing Rugby for the first time?
A. Get in there and have a go. Assign yourself to a club, have a few training sessions and see if it’s the right thing for you. One of the hardest things is making that first step to try a new sport.
Support these #womeninsport (and men!) by buying tickets to one or all of the Sydney Sevens games, this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (3-5th February 2017): www.sydneysevens.com.au