Women’s sport weekly wrap: Meet the Jillaroos

This article was first written and published for The Roar.

I’ll always remember this week as the week where I really felt like for the first time, the Australian public really embraced the Matildas.

It has truly been an incredible week for this team – it started last Saturday when Sam Kerr was on the front of the Sydney Morning Herald back-flipping. Despite increased attention for women in sport, we are still not at a point where women’s sport is covered frequently in our mainstream newspapers.

To have women’s sport featured on the front page signals that something special is going on.

Last weekend was the first time I had had the opportunity to watch the Matildas play. When I went to Pepper Stadium last Saturday, I joined over 15,000 people to watch the team play. This game was the first occasion that the Matildas had played on home soil in front of a sold-out-crowd.

Had I not been so overjoyed that that many people had turned out to watch women’s football, I would have been slightly cranky that I didn’t have a seat. But I wasn’t the only one. Friends of mine who arrived an hour before kick-off also couldn’t find a seat. The Stadium was packed. There were no empty seats in the grandstand and the massive crowd sprawled onto the hill. So much for critics who say no one is interested in women’s sport because it is an ‘inferior product’.

The atmosphere was electric – dads with their daughters, families, men and women brought together by their love of football.

And what’s not to love? This was the Matildas first game in Australia since their Tournament of Nations triumph last month where Australia not only won the whole tournament, but also defeated the United States for the first time in history.

Saturday’s game finished with a 2-1 result in favour of the Matildas, making it the second time in a row that this team had beaten Brazil. On Tuesday night in Newcastle, two became three when the Matildas came from behind to defeat Brazil 3-2. Sam Kerr scored two goals on the night and entertained the crowd with another one of her trademark backflips.

For fans of women’s football, the coaching staff and the Matildas themselves, it must be truly incredible to have watched the rise of this team from underdogs to one of Australia’s most loved sporting teams.

The Australian public is beginning to get behind the characters in the team like Sam Kerr who is not just famous for her back-flips but also for being one of the most talented football players in the world. Then there’s Ellie Carpenter who was Australia’s youngest athlete at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and Lisa de Vanna, the experienced campaigner who is Australia’s leading goal scorer and who scored a phenomenal long range goal on Saturday in Penrith.

Post-game in de Vanna admitted to being emotional, because despite playing for the Matildas for 15 years, she had never played in a stadium with so many people cheering for the team.

In their last two games, they have played in front of over 31,000 people. The crowd in Newcastle of 16,829 was a record for a stand-alone Matildas home game.

The next step is keeping the momentum going and ensuring that this strong support of our national team translates into support of the upcoming W-League season. The W-League season will begin in the final weekend of October, span for 14 weeks and will include 25 double-headers alongside A-League games.

I’ll also be keeping an eye out on the next update of the world rankings. The Matildas are currently sitting in sixth place, but I expect them to move back into the top five, perhaps even the top four after beating Brazil three times in succession. This is only the beginning for this team – make sure you’re on board.

There is absolutely no denying that women’s sport is in the rise at the moment. This year alone we have seen the incredible success of the AFLW, increased awareness and profiling for the Australian Jillaroos, a new Super Netball competition and a nation behind the Matildas.

I’m hoping that the wave of support for the Matildas translates into support for other women’s sport and one of our next opportunities to watch a national team in action is the Ashes series featuring out Australian Women’s Cricket Team.

Games will be played at Coffs Harbour, Allan Border Field and North Sydney Oval, so I encourage all of you to get out there and support our Australian Women’s Cricket Team – with talent like Megan Schutt, Ellyse Perry, Alex Blackwell and Elyse Villani featuring, you won’t be disappointed. The Ashes begins on October 22.

Rugby league
Last week I introduced all of you to one of the new faces in the Australian Jillaroos – Talesha Quinn. This week I thought I would introduce you to another.

Jessica Sergis will make her Jillaroos debut tomorrow against the Papua New Guinea Orchids. it is pretty incredible for a young woman that has played less than 20 rugby league games.

Jess went to her first training session with the Cronulla Sharks earlier this year with no idea what to expect. She remembers feeling intimidated – particularly about meeting pioneers in the game like Ruan Sims.

She thought she would be excluded and that she wasn’t good enough to play with these women. But then, Jess noticed that Ruan Sims was wearing fake eyelashes just like hers and her mind was at ease. Her mind was even more at ease when the squad welcomed her instantly as one of their own.

Over the past year, Jess has developed into one of the most talented Australian rugby league prospects. She was one of the Sharks best players this year and made her New South Wales debut in the Interstate Challenge, scoring three tries.

Along the way she has been the beneficiary of plenty of support and mentoring from women in the team like Ruan Sims.

While Jess may be in awe of the women she plays with, the feeling of respect is certainly mutual.

Ruan talks fondly about Jess, explaining that she took Jess aside for some one-on-one tackling training very early on. While Jess didn’t have the correct technique initially, Ruan saw ability, a willingness to listen and a hunger to learn. In that moment, Ruan knew she had a future talent on her hands.

Keep an eye on the Jillaroos tomorrow to watch this talent unleash.