Leilani and Nicole have had a fantastic calendar year, playing key roles in Hamilton’s surge to the preliminary final, where they challenged the undefeated Waratahs in a 24-all thriller, before donning NSW Country jerseys in the Chikarovski Cup.
Two months later, the Hawks duo are training under the watchful eye of new Waratahs coach Campbell Aitken as he trims an extended training squad that includes Super W stars like Grace Hamilton, Emily Chancellor, and Maitland’s Mahalia Murphy.
And all this was in the first year the Nathan sisters have taken up rugby. The Nathans even admit they had “no idea” their 2019 would turn out like this.
“It’s a really special feeling to be here, we didn’t have any idea that we’d be given this opportunity with the Waratahs, to be honest,” Nicole told the Chronicle from the Super W team’s preseason training camp in Sydney.
“We didn’t expect it at all,” Leilani added,” especially not in our very first year playing. It was a big surprise, and we’re definitely trying to make the most of it.”
“We’re really here to learn from all these girls, we have no expectations of anything for the squad, we just want to get as much experience and make sure that we’re always learning, and bringing what we’ve learned into our game,” Nicole said.
For the Nathan sisters, being able to join Hunter superstars Cheech Barker and Maya Stewart—the latter of whom got her first taste of international battle against the Kiwi Ferns last weekend—has also helped them settle in straight away.
“Going with each other has been great, you know someone has your back straight off the bat, and they already knew everyone in the squad as well so they introduced us, and made sure we didn’t feel left out or anything,” Leilani said.
“Everyone here has been so amazing too. Maya and Cheech have both given us a lot of pointers as well, they’ve really taken us under their wings.
“Everyone in the squad is always looking to give us tips, and leading us into exactly what we need to be doing, and what we need to improve. It’s been so nice.”
The sisters were also helped, they explained, by the fact they got the chance to head to the Sydney training camp with each other, and admitted they were loving the chance to learn everything together.
“With each other, going in, has been really cool, we get to talk about it and discuss what we’ve learned, and I think it’s kind of made it feel a little less daunting to know that we’re not the new faces alone,” Leilani said.
The twins also admitted that they never expected their 2019 season to end with them pulling on the shades of blue that adorn the Waratahs training gear, or practicing alongside New South Wales’ cohort of international superstars.
They had been aiming for a place in the state squad—it was something they were definite they wanted to achieve eventually—and it was only after Leilani was named Country’s player of the comp in the Chikarovski Cup that they started to believe.
“This has always been in our sights, but we never expected it to come this quick, it’s our first year playing club rugby, so it’s a nice surprise,” Nicole said. “That’s kind of why we’re just seeing where it takes us, we weren’t counting on it.”
Now the twins are facing the 30-player chop, when Aitken makes the call on who he will be taking into the ‘Tahs back-to-back title defence against some of the strongest state squads on offer around Australia.
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While nothing is for certain, and the Nathan sisters certainly admit they’re not expecting to make the cut in their first year with the training squad, Leilani admitted it would be “pretty massive” if they made it past the squad-pinch.
“It would be such a big achievement for us, it’s one of our main goals to get this level and make sure we can stay here, but if we don’t make it then it’s okay with us—we’ve had a taste now, and we know what we have to do to keep going,” she said.
“It’s almost been overwhelming,” Nicole added with a laugh. “There’s a lot of players we knew before coming into the camp, and now they’re the ones that we’re practicing with. No matter what, it’s been such a cool experience for us both.”
And no matter what happens with their Waratahs quest at the moment, the Hunter twins have confirmed they’ll be returning to the blue and yellow of the Hamilton Hawks for the Newcastle & Hunter Rugby premiership in 2020.
For the stars, there’s a sense of unfinished business after the team fell in the preliminary final in 2019, and the regional league will again give the twins a chance to show exactly what they can achieve out on the field.
“We’re just going to keep going, we really love rugby, and we’re going to keep pushing and see how high we can go,” they said. “We want to put our foot in the door, and it’s awesome that we can say that we’ve done that already this year.”
The 2020 Super W season is expected to again begin in late March, nearly two months later than the previous two iterations of the national competition. The Waratahs’ 47-player training squad will be trimmed ahead of that cutoff date.