LESS than two years ago Maya Stewart was in the process of considering rugby as a sport to “have a crack at” in Newcastle, with the local Waratahs club her likely destination as a first-time trial for the competition.
Now, the lethal winger has just come off the back of completing a different kind of trial, claiming her first try for the NSW Women in their 74-7 preseason victory over the ACT Brumbies in Goulburn.
Her meteoric rise has been one to behold, especially for her host of Novocastrian fans back home, but the 18-year-old flyer remains relatively humble when speaking about her path from the NHRU women’s competition, to making the Aon University 7s Dream Team in 2018, to her gold medal finish with the Australian Girls Sevens in New Zealand.
“I didn’t really expect all of this, I always wanted to give rugby a go and last year I finally got a chance to give it a crack,” Stewart said. “I didn’t expect too much for myself but once the opportunities started coming I started grasping them and just doing what I can.”
“I didn’t really expect to crack into the fifteens lineup, I’d had a good season with the ‘Tahs back in Newcastle and then obviously had a strong run in the Uni 7s, but Sydney is so strong in terms of players and talent, so I didn’t think I’d make it there.
“The girls from last year in the NSW Womens were so good I didn’t think I’d get selected, so it was a bit of a shock to make the team. I definitely didn’t expect it, but I was stoked when I heard.”
The young Newcastle bolter said she felt “honoured” to get the chance to represent Newcastle and the Hunter, and praised fellow Novocastrian Katrina ‘Cheech’ Barker, who has been involved with the NSW Womens for a full season already.
“It’s pretty cool to be representing Newcastle, and I’m really happy that I get the opportunity to do it alongside Cheech – she’s got that knowledge and experience so she’s guided me through it really well,” Stewart said.
“She has given me lots of good pointers, doesn’t over-complicate it and she’s just a calming voice for me that has helped massively. She has so much vision and it’s made me so much more comfortable coming into the squad.”
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Stewart started the Super W trial in the number 14 jumper for NSW, and opened the scoring for the ladies in blue, before a head knock ruled her out of the rest of the clash.
Barker, who is preparing for her second season in the country’s premier womens rugby competition, came off the bench in the 67-point victory.
“I started well in the game I felt, but I got a head knock and it put me on the sideline – no blue card or anything like that but of course the coaches kept me off as a precaution,” Stewart explained. “I was kind of annoyed but I understood”
“I got a try as well, which was really good. It felt good to finally be on the field, and everything we’d been learning started making a lot of sense. Everyone talks and directs you so it was a real eye opener for me.
“It was good to get a try in the game, playing out wide we want to get it out there, and a few of our moves came off with our blind-side winger so that felt really good to showcase what we’d been working on.”
— NSW Waratahs (@NSWWaratahs) February 2, 2019
The 18-year-old is know facing down the start of the Super W season, when the NSW Women take on the Brumbies again in just two short weeks. It’s a date that Stewart has had marked on her calendar since she first heard the momentous Waratahs news.
“I’m just looking to enjoy it, but it’s a really competitive team so I want to take any opportunity that I have,” she said. “I hope we can all just go back to back, I know that’s what the girls are aiming for this year.”
“It’s good to kick off with the Brumbies after having the trial recently, but I know they’ll come back stronger and with a few weeks turnaround it will be a completely different game come the first round I think.”
Having come from the grassroots competition of the Hunter and beyond, Stewart also said she was very aware of others coming up behind her, and offered words of encouragement to other young players who would be using her and Barker’s path to the Super W as a guide.
“I want them to come take my place, I want them to have a crack and challenge us girls in the Waratahs for our positions,” Stewart said of other Newcastle talent breaking into the top leagues. “There’s no one stopping them but themselves, and everyone is behind them.”
“I think rugby is a great place where these girls showcase their skills, help raise the standard of competition, and grow the game. Basically I want them to come take my place.”
Three matches have been confirmed to be part of a combined Super Rugby-Super W double header, with the Brumbies vs NSW Women (Round 1), Queensland vs Rugby WA Women (Round 2) and the Melbourne Rebels vs Rugby WA Women (Round 3) playing ahead of their Super Rugby counterparts.
Stewart and Barker will kick their Super W season off on Sunday, February 23 against the Brumbies at GIO Stadium in Canberra. Kick-off has been slated for 5pm AEDT.
All matches this season will be broadcast live on Kayo Sports and Rugby.com.au, with Fox Sports also showing any matches that are part of double headers. All fixtures for the upcoming Super W season can be found at the Rugby.com.au fixtures & results page.
NSW 74 (Crystal Maguire 3, Mardi Watts 2, Jemima Henry, Maya Stewart, Evelyn Horomia, Shanice Parker, Iliseva Batibasaga, Ash Hewson, Tisera Volkman; conversions Ash Hewson 3, Bella McKenzie 3, Chloe Leaupepe) def. ACT 7.