Griffith University has named the squad for its 2021 AON University 7s campaign, with high hopes for a successful season after Covid impacted the interstate rugby sevens competition last year.
The 22-strong squad includes a host of new young faces and some seasoned veterans as well, with Bachelor of Public Relations and Communications student Kiri Lingman returning to the side as co-Captain along with seasoned players Sophie Quirk, a Clinical Exercise Physiology student, and Education student Kahli Henwood.
Last weekend the group came together for a final training camp in northern NSW and also played rival Bond University in a few trial games to test fitness levels and teamwork ahead of the first round of the season.
Captain of Griffith’s 2018 premiership winning team Kiri Lingman says she feels great after injury forced her out of the 2019 side and Covid ruined her comeback chances in 2020.
“After my shoulder reconstruction I feel pretty good. Fitness wise we have been doing a lot of running as with most 7s, so I also feel pretty good in that respect, but we’ve got a lot of really fit young girls in the team this year,” she said.
“There are a couple of us in our late 20s so we’re the oldies but that’s our point of difference in the team, having that experience for the younger girls especially when they’re a bit nervous.
“It is a high-level competition and it’s a lot to take on with the trainings and being in that kind of environment, so it is good to reassure them and give them confidence.”
The AON University 7s series is Australia’s premier sevens competition for women and features a new, more competitive format in 2021, with teams playing in regional tournaments ahead of a finals series.
Four regional rounds played out in both Queensland and New South Wales across March and April will see the nine teams vie for six qualification places in May’s two final National tournaments.
Queensland has won all three previous instalments of the series with a strong rivalry between 2018 winners Griffith and UQ, who won in 2017 and 2019.
Griffith’s squad is training at Logan campus this year rather than Sunnybank, so that players can more easily make sessions after a day of study or work commitments.
“The team is split 50/50 with girls from Logan and the coast so it does take a toll travelling all that way,” Lingman said.
Highly regarded coach Moana Virtue is back this year.
“Last year felt like one long pre-season where you just didn’t know what was going on and you’re just training and training,” she said.
“This year we have dates so we’re hoping that everything goes to plan, but I guess with Covid you just have to be fluid. I think that’s life from now on, but we really want to play!
“We’ve been training for a while and there has been a lot of learning and growing – there have been huge improvements by everyone actually, both physically and skill wise so it’s been awesome to watch.”
Virtue says the growth of other female football codes has seen some older players depart, making way for a new crop of enthusiastic girls.
“The mix this year is very young and normally I only ever have one or two school girls but I think we actually have six this year, which is a lot for a senior women’s program but there are a few in there that will probably push for top selection,” she said.
“It is awesome to see the growth (in women’s sport). A lot of older players have gone to league. I want them to succeed in whatever sport they play – of course I wish it was rugby – but now there’s more opportunity for the younger players as the older players are going to do new things.”
Kiri Lingman says the Covid enforced break in competition last year has meant it’s anyone’s guess as to the strongest side this year.
“There are a lot of young girls who have been working really hard especially with that break to make it into AONS,” she said.
“The youth nationals were held the other week and those teams were just full of really young and incredible girls which I think are now spread out among the AON teams.
“It is really hard to know just which team is the one to watch this year.”
The first AON tournament for 2021 will be held on 27-28 March at Easts Rugby Union grounds in Brisbane after a new partnership was signed between Griffith and Easts, which will ensure shared facilities and players, and the provision of sports medicine support and coaching.
Griffith’s squad includes both talented Griffith students and other high-level players from the local community.
- Alana-Lee Grace – Bachelor of Science
- Georgina Friedrichs – Master of Primary Teaching
- Kahli Henwood – Bachelor of Education
- Kiri Lingman (co-Captain) – Bachelor of Public Relations and Communications
- Lucy Single – Bachelor of Education
- Marama Thomas – Bachelor of Education
- Sophie Quirk – Bachelor of Clinical Exercise Physiology
- Terri-Anne Egan – Bachelor of Business
- Anne-Marie Ratu
- Chantay Ratu
- Eloise Schlecht
- Gemma Lawrence
- Haidee Head
- Ivana Lolesio
- Ivania Wong
- Larana Thomas
- Morgan Te Oka (co-Captain)
- Natalie Johnson
- Piper Flynn
- Taylah Fuiava
- Tiana Raftstrand-Smith
- Yolanda Gittins