In 2017, a group of Calrossy Anglican School girls walked into their school Principal’s office and asked for his support in playing rugby. The rest, as they say, is history.

Back in the 1930s, physical education classes at Calrossy Anglican School often included set exercises or drills. The girls wore uniforms made from navy tobralco, with red bias binding around the sleeves and neck. By the 50s ball games such as Captain Ball and Tunnel Ball had been added to the mix, and were tightly contested at the school’s athletics carnivals. While no one can deny Captain Ball is a classic, the sporting scene at Calrossy has undoubtedly moved on.

Today, the school is proud to support the growing girls rugby tournament – a move that was initiated by the students themselves.

“During my first week here in 2017, a group of girls walked into my office and said: ‘Hi, we’d really like to play rugby, will you support us?’ – my answer was absolutely,” says David Smith, the school’s Principal.

And so it began – a sport once reserved for boys has become a burgeoning passion for many young women at the school, so much so that there are now more girls teams than boys.

“Our girls took to it very quickly,” says David. “We were successful for the first two years of the Sevens Tournament and they went through to compete at state level. Unfortunately the comp couldn’t go ahead this year, but they won the Northwest Open Women’s Cup last year. I was amazed by their skill level.”

Ensuring the girls have access to appropriate coaching to learn those key skills has been crucial at Calrossy. A top priority for our new sports director is to support skill development in rugby.

“We want to make sure the girls have the best training, after all it’s a contact sport so it’s new for a lot of them,” says David. “It’s important they learn how to roll, fall down and take the hits and ultimately build their confidence on the field. In the beginning we did have a number of broken arms and wrists, so a lot of work has gone into equipping the girls with the training they need to do those things safely. It’s been really exciting to see it develop.”

David attributes local rugby clubs, the Pirates and Magpies, as well as Central North Rugby for their ongoing support and investment in growing the regional competition. But he says the girls, above all, have led the way.

"It's been a source of pride for the girls, they've truly embraced the spirit of rugby," says David.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but they’re committed to the sport and it’s about more than just the way they play the game. It’s the way they hold themselves off the field, the way they take pride in the sport and each other, they are wonderful representatives of the school and we will do everything possible to support them, teach them those sporting values and offer them pathways to the next level if that’s something they choose to pursue.”

Seeing those pathways emerge has been a huge shift in recent years, and something that Calrossy Rugby Coach Jeremy Maslen says makes all the difference to the future of women’s rugby.

“In the five years I’ve been coaching the team I’ve seen rep pathways develop so the girls can now go from club or school rugby, through to zone, state and eventually country level – that was never in place four to five years ago,” he says.

“To train them up to that level, we really go back to basics, teaching them how to go knees, hips, shoulders – as this is the safe way to go to ground when you get tackled, and proper techniques for passing. But they’re like sponges, they absorb everything, they listen carefully and follow instructions and they absolutely thrive.

Jeremy also says the girls he’s had the honour of coaching are incredibly fast learners and, at times, give the boys a run for their money.

“There are 18-year-old girls who started playing at the age of 13 who are just as good, if not better, than boys who started out at the age of seven. It just shows how quickly they can learn. By the time girls progress to XVs rugby, they are generally very well rounded by starting their pathways in the local 7s competition.

“But ultimately, it’s so much fun too. It’s really social, they bond incredibly well and they’re so passionate about playing for each other. There’s a lot of team spirit there and it’s a great culture both on and off the field.”

{words: Steph Wanlessphotography: Daniel Nash Photography}