From country roads to city lights, Gunnedah teenager Jayla Suey has made quite the name for herself in the rugby union world in a relatively short period of time, after playing rugby union for the first time last year in the Gunnedah Junior Rugby under 14s.
Last weekend Jayla represented her club at the NSW Rugby girls leadership conference in Sydney and was given the honour of being flag-bearer at the Wallaroos game, also meeting the team before the match.
Team manager Jamee Ovington said Jayla had been invited to Rugby Australia Building and Allianz Stadium in Sydney as part of the leadership group, and have a tour of the stadium, the gym, the grounds, and everything in between, along with another meeting to talk about ideas and girls in rugby.
“This gave Jayla the opportunity to meet the Wallaroos and the Fijiana teams prior to their match on Saturday evening, and then be invited to stay and watch the men’s Waratahs take on the Fijian Drua team,” Jamee said.
“During the meeting, Jayla was selected as one of the flag bearers for the game, which she was incredibly nervous about and sent me a text while I was in the grandstand, telling me how excited and proud she was to be holding the Aboriginal flag and how proud she was to represent her culture, her club and her town at a game of such importance.
“She was in absolute awe standing there seeing all the women she looks up to in that level of the sport.
“Seeing Jayla take the field and stand with pride and a smile on her face and to be given this amazing opportunity by NSW Rugby is something Jayla and I will never forget,” Jamee said.
“If you ask her the ‘what do you want to do when you grow up’ question – she will answer the same every time ‘I want to play rugby professionally’ and one day with coaches like Emma Costello in their corner and fuelling that passion and drive and developing their skills, that dream may just come true for girls across the board.”
Jayla’s rise in junior rugby has been under the coaching of Emma Costello after she joined the Junior Devils last season. Jamee Ovington said that without Emma in Jayla’s corner guiding her, building her up and developing her skills, none of her accomplishments so far would have happened.
“This year Jayla is lucky enough to be coached again by Emma in the under 16s but the season is already proving to be a tough one as moving age groups means bigger, stronger and more experienced players across the competition – but this hasn’t stopped Jayla,” she said.
“Jayla has been awarded an Ed Start Junior Waratahs Scholarship this year for her dedication and determination with rugby so far.
“This scholarship has funded all her rugby registrations for the year among other great opportunities, such as joining them towards the end of the season for development clinics at Waratahs HQ and tickets to various Waratahs games just to name a few.”
It’s not all highs with rugby for Jayla – a disappointing low recently was narrowly missing out on selections to represent Central North at the state championships this year in the under 16s after representing Central North last year in the under 14s.
After missing out on selections Jayla’s first words were ‘there will always be more opportunities’ and that has already happened.
Jayla was picked up by Sydney Southern Districts to join their team and to play with them at the state championships in Port Macquarie over the June long weekend.
Pre footy season, Jayla was a part of the Lloyd McDermott Development Team and attended a camp at Olympic Park with other like-minded girls in rugby and made incredible friendships with many of them.
They then travelled to Tuggerah to play in the Indigenous Ella 7s tournament where Jayla played in the Sydney University team.
“Moving forward, most recently Jayla was selected to be a part of the NSW Rugby Girls Leadership Group,” Jamee said.
“This is an amazing opportunity which will benefit not only Jayla but girls all across NSW – especially regional NSW, within the rugby union communities.
“Being a part of the girls leadership group, Jayla along with other girls selected, will join forces to come up with new ideas on ways to encourage more girls into rugby union and to show all girls how inclusive the sport can be.
“Regional NSW is in dire need of more girls to join the rugby sporting community and that’s what these girls will be trying to encourage along with developing more pathways for girls at a representative level.”
The leadership team has already had several Zoom meetings to throw a few ideas around and brainstorm with Brittany Merlo, who has just been selected into the Waratahs women’s team, with some great insights into the sport. These girls are also helping develop all the NSW Rugby girls camps that have been advertised.
Jamee Ovington said the motto for these camps “Our Time, Your Turn” is worded this way as the growth of women’s professional sport and the time for opportunities is now (Our Time), and it’s every young girl’s turn to play and achieve whatever she wants to in rugby and life (Your Turn).
These camps were made possible through funding from the Office of Sports Her Sport Her Way program in trying to help grow opportunities for girls and women.
Just prior to this Gunnedah Times article going to press, Jayla was advised that she will be attending the International Rugby Academy Australia in Sydney in September to further develop her skills with world renowned players and coaches. Some of the coaches and players attending to develop the girls have played or coached teams such as Japan, USA, NZ, England and Australia.