They are the fresh young faces poised to step out of the shadows and make their mark on the national rugby sevens stage.
And for Kate Muscat, Jessee Santo and Cassandra Carberry, the time has come as The University of Queensland (UQ) prepares to host the opening round of the 2019 Aon Uni 7s series on September 14–15. The UQ students have shown promising form in this year’s Queensland Academy of Sport (QAS) Uni 7s series – a precursor to the Aon Uni 7s tournament – and in recent trial matches against Bond University and arch rivals Griffith University.
All three have been named in UQ’s 24-player squad for the Aon Uni 7s series, and are eager to be selected in the top side to play on home soil in round one.
“It’s so exciting that UQ will host the first round of the series this year,” said Muscat, who grew up in Mackay.
“It always gives you an extra boost when your friends and family can come and watch.”
This is Muscat’s second season in the University’s rugby program, with the utility player helping UQ claim a silver medal in last year’s Aon Uni 7s series.
The Bachelor of Physiotherapy student said she was keen to go one better this year and emulate the efforts of UQ’s 2017 side, which won the inaugural series.
“We have high expectations among the playing group, and among the coaching staff as well,” Muscat said.
“We won the competition two years ago and finished second last year, so we want to get back on top.
“We have some high-quality coaches and a great group of players – a mix of youth and experience – so we’re quite confident.”
“Our past success means that we do carry a burden of expectation, but the players thrive on that."
UQ has welcomed a number of new faces into its women’s rugby program this year, and coach Reg Tayler said the club had purposely recruited a lot of youth with an eye on the future.
“Our past success means that we do carry a burden of expectation, but the players thrive on that,” Tayler said.
“We’re going into this year’s series with the attitude that we can win it, but preparation is key and that’s what we’re focusing on.”
Tayler said a crucial part of the preparation process was honing the broad skills and raw talent of the squad’s new players, many of whom have been identified through different sports.
Muscat has represented Queensland and Australia in soccer and futsal respectively, while Carberry’s talents were on show during a Queensland touch football carnival last year.
Santo is a former Queensland sprint champion and sister of former NRL player Zac Santo, who played for the North Queensland Cowboys and Canberra Raiders. Santo, who hails from Charters Towers in North Queensland, said she was still getting used to the level of professionalism, but was enjoying the challenge.
“The training sessions are tough, but it’s a breath of fresh air. Athletics training was never this intense, but I like being pushed,” the winger and first-year Bachelor of Arts student said.
“My brother plays rugby league and I’ve always wanted to give rugby a try.
“A lot of people look at me and say, ‘she’s pretty small to be playing rugby’. But then I look at my brother [who’s not a big guy] and I think that if he can do it, surely I can too.” Carberry, a first-year Bachelor of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences student, has had an interrupted lead-up to the Aon Uni 7s series, with the Toowoomba product sidelined with a long-term groin injury.
A strained adductor muscle has meant she only returned to full training duties with the UQ squad in late August.
“It’s a frustrating injury and I haven’t seen a lot of game time lately,” the promising centre and winger said.
“I’ve been focusing a lot on my running and getting back up to full speed. I would love to be selected in the team for round one and play in front of a home crowd.”
If selected in UQ’s Aon Uni 7s match-day side, the students will get the chance to play alongside current Australian representatives, such as Lori Cramer, Emma Sykes, Cassie Staples and Hagiga Mosby.
“It’s pretty amazing to be training and playing alongside these players,” Carberry said.
“I used to watch the Australian women’s sevens team on TV before I started playing rugby, and what the team did at the Olympics in 2016 was such an inspiration.”
The Aon Uni 7s series will feature 10 teams this year, with The University of Western Australia and University of Technology Sydney entering the tournament for the first time.
Tayler said he was looking forward to seeing a large crowd at the UQ Sport Athletics Centre to support the team in the opening round.
“The Aon series has become the premier women’s sevens competition in the country, and it will be great to see UQ and the broader community get out and support this event,” Tayler said.
“UQ has some fierce rivalries, especially with Griffith and The University of Sydney. Griffith will be favourites on paper again this year, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
This article was produced by the UQ Media Department/Michael Jones