TWO months after standing in goals for the Young Matildas soccer team in Myanmar, Hannah Southwell is headed for the Oceania Rugby Sevens Championship with the Rio Olympic-winning national side.
The 17-year-old from Cameron Park, who was part of Matildas selection camps this year and the Jets’ No.1 W-League goalkeeper, has turned her back on soccer to focus on rugby union.
And Southwell says “it’s the best decision I have ever made”.
“The last two months, it sort of hit me,” Southwell said. “I just wasn’t enjoying [soccer] as much because I knew I loved rugby. It was a big change, but Dad and I put a lot of thought into the decision.
“I thought it was the best thing going forward, and I just love it now.”
Southwell was part of the Australian Green team which won the Central Coast Sevens tournament last weekend with a 40-19 final victory over another national side, Australian Gold. The two Australian teams were a mixture of Rio Olympic gold medallists and development players such as Southwell.
“It was awesome, I was learning so much from all of them,” Southwell said.
Southwell’s performance has earned her a call up to a national team training camp next week at Narrabeen ahead of the Oceania titles in Fiji on November 11-12.
The selection caps a rapid rise for Southwell, who juggled NSW rugby sevens team training in Sydney last year with her soccer commitments, which included playing for the Young Matildas in August. She said a family holiday to Hawaii a week after returning from the Young Matildas tour gave her time to think about her sporting future.
“I got to clear my head and just put my priorities right,” she said. “I made the decision there, and it was a good place to go to make a decision.
“As soon as the Aussie girls won the Olympic gold medal, I knew something started inside me and I knew it was going to be rugby from there on.
“But I was still playing soccer, so I knew I had to ease my way out of it.”
The former Hunter Sports High School student, who is now studying fitness training at TAFE, played rugby league for five years before age restrictions prevented her from continuing to compete against the boys.
Also a state junior cricket representative, Southwell switched to soccer and quickly became one of the top goalkeeping prospects in the country.
Last winter, she played a handful of 15-a-side rugby games for Newcastle women’s club Wanderers. Her rugby sevens experience, though, started in school tournaments three years ago.
“It’s been off and on and now I just want to commit solely to it now,” she said. “I thought I’d dabbled in enough sports, and it was time to focus on just one.”
As well as the senior tournament in Fiji, Southwell is set to play for the Australian under-18 side in an international tournament in New Zealand after earning selection from a training camp two months ago.
She was surprised how quickly the change in focus had led to national selections.
“We had a development camp before the Central Coast Sevens, which I was so surprised to get invited to,” she said.
“I was just training with NSW and my coach must have put my name forward, and I went to the camp.
“I wasn’t expecting much from that but then I got invited into to play with the Aussie team.
“I was stoked, and I actually started every game. I was rotated with one of the other development girls, but I got good time, surprisingly. I didn’t think I’d get any.
“I actually scored once, which is surprising for a forward.
“It was really surprising. I made a few tackles and had a lot of fun. They are a great bunch of girls.”