Originally published 06/12/2018 on rugby.com.au. To view click here
Georgia Crosby will represent Western Australia at the National Youth Sevens Championship this weekend in Brisbane, but if you think Perth to Ballymore is a long haul, this speedy teenager has news for you.
Since being spotted at a Rugby WA school clinic in Albany at the start of last year, the 17-year-old has completed the nine-hour round trip to Perth for training more times than she (or parents Natalie and Michael) care to count.
Up and back, it’s a 830km slog, but Georgia isn’t about to let distance get in the way of a dream to wear green and gold.
“Just because I’m a young girl from a regional area doesn’t mean it has to limit me when it comes to sport,” Georgia says. “Just because I’m so far away doesn’t mean I can’t reach the top, it takes a lot of commitment, but if you really give it your best shot you can definitely get there.
“My main goal with rugby is to represent Australia. I know it’s a long shot but I’d really like to do that one day; that’s my main goal, just to progress with it all, and hopefully one day represent my country.”
After that fateful school clinic and a stand-out performance for North Albany Senior High playing touch football at the 2017 Country Week carnival in Perth, Georgia was offered a place in RugbyWA’s high-performance program, and the nine-hour commutes began.
A grant from the Great Southern Sports Talent Association also paid for specialised one-on-one sessions with local personal trainer Chris Henderson, a somewhat more manageable journey for mum Natalie from the family property at Kalgan, 20km north east of Albany.
“We were coming in after dark in winter and she would just do really intense 30-45 minute training sessions,” Natalie says. “We did 30 personal sessions, and the change in her body was incredible, enabling her to increase speed over short distances and build neck and back strength.”
That’s a lot of training, but when Georgia scored a try with one of her first touches in WA’s win over South Australia in the pool stages of last year’s tournament at Ballymore, it was effectively her first involvement in a competitive rugby match.
At the time, she was also agonising over the offer of a rugby-focussed scholarship to attend Aranmore Catholic College in Perth; an opportunity she eventually accepted.
“We’ve always said to her that the prizes on the top shelf are a little bit harder to get, but they are so worth getting uncomfortable for,” Natalie says. “She’s definitely that type of person – she’s capable of so much – but both (elder brother) Joshua and Georgia are IVF kids so we tried super hard to have them and, for some reason, I think it makes it extra hard when they leave.
“I remember when we dropped Georgia off, as much as we were so excited for her and ready for her to take that next step, it think we were half way back to Albany before I stopped crying.”
The separation was also tough for Georgia, and she will return to Albany to complete high school in 2019, but the closer involvement with development programs throughout this year will pay dividends down the track.
“It took a really long time (to decide), but I think I knew the end result would be that I had to go up (to Perth) if I wanted to do rugby – it was really my only option,” Georgia says. “But it’s my last year of school next year and I really wanted to be with the friends I’d been with since primary school and the teachers I’d gotten to know really well.”
Georgia also made the transition to 15-a-side rugby throughout this year with Perth club Palmyra and was part of the WA squad which won the inaugural under 18s Schoolgirls State Championships in Canberra in July.
She feared a mid-season back injury and her impending move back to Albany may count against her in terms of selection for this year’s National Youth Sevens squad but Dane Lazarus, one of the Rugby WA development staff who first identified Georgia, said she already has a reputation for making every post a winner.
“We could see from the start this person needed to be in rugby and it was exciting to be part of her journey – getting her from Albany and linking her with contacts at schools here in Perth,” Lazarus says. “I was fortunate to have coached Georgia in the state program last year and she took to it like a duck to water and it was amazing to see her grow each and every time she got an opportunity.
“Athletes, they come and they go, but when you’ve got someone who wants to work unassisted you know they’re special.”
WA Girls Youth Sevens head coach Dwayne Grace, also head of rugby at Aranmore, is another mentor now familiar with Georgia’s dedication to the cause.
“That commitment she showed week in-week out driving up from Albany, we thought she could have what it takes to go somewhere, if she’s willing to put in that commitment,” he says. “We know she’ll stay committed to rugby when she moves back, she knows what the standard is now, and will keep herself on the same level as the kids up here.
“She has good pace and good power, she fights through contact, doesn’t shy away from it. We’ll play her on the edge (over the next few days) so she can burn people on the outside with her speed.”
The inaugural Super W season in 2018 has provided another exciting development pathway for women’s rugby in WA, something illustrated by Australian Youth 7s representative Courtney Hodder.
After sharing a pitch with Georgia at last year’s National Youth Sevens Championship, Hodder lit up the opening round of Super W action in March, scoring six tries in the Western Force’s 85-13 thumping of Melbourne Rebels.
It was the 17-year-old’s first outing in the 15-a-side format, and five of her Force teammates; Mhicca Carter, Rebecca Clough, Trilleen Pomare, Kendra Fell and Darryl Wickliffe made the Wallaroos squad for the two-Test Series against New Zealand’s Black Ferns in August.
That Force Super W squad also included Albany’s Annie Fagan, who covered thousands of kilometres to be part of the history-making team, and Hodder has been named manager of this year’s WA National Youth Sevens squad as she recovers from breaking her tibia and fibula.
Part of the reasoning behind her non-playing role is perhaps to keep the former Peel Thunderbirds representative involved in rugby because, like Georgia, she has been targeted by AFLW recruiters in the West.
But, even in a footy town like Albany, the rugby community is making every effort to ensure Georgia keeps her eye on the prize.
Paul Osborne, a level-three coach who rejuvenated junior rugby in Albany, has been holding skills sessions with her twice a week through October and November.
“She hinted at wanting to come back and I said; ‘look, if you come back, I can work with you and we can keep your skill level up and that might save you having to travel up (to Perth) every week’,” he says, “She’s a wonderful athlete, she’s got great ability, a good turn of pace and good feet…. she also picks things up very quickly.”
In 2020, it’s likely Georgia will end up back in Perth as part of the natural migration of school leavers moving to the city for work and study, and Osborne has encouraged her to stay the course with rugby.
“There is a clear pathway there now, and she’s keen to make that Super W team, so I said; ‘you can always go back to footy, if you give rugby three or four years, you can always stop and go to football as a 22-year-old and still be fine’.
“But give rugby a go, because it’s a global game, you can potentially go to the Olympics – so what a wonderful opportunity to have and to keep you working and focussed.”
So, for the next year, the Albany Highway and endless podcasts once again beckon for the Crosbys but it’s not just athletic achievement which prompts the family to keep helping Georgia chase her dream.
“I think with rugby there is a huge opportunity to grow personally, we’ve certainly seen that growth in Georgia over the last year,” Natalie says. “There’s a lot more of a community spirit in rugby that we weren’t privy to before we were around the game – it’s all new to us.”
The next three days of action at Ballymore will provide invaluable match practice for Georgia, but there’s no doubt her coaches and mentors in the West are playing the long game.
Such determination, accountability and will to succeed are rare in a teenage athlete; Georgia appreciates what her short involvement with the game has already given her – but she clearly wants so much more.
“It’s definitely taught me to be a stronger person in general; it’s made me fight more for what I want to do in life, it’s made me stronger physically as well,” she says.
“It’s made me realise how much better I can be.”