World Cup fever hits as Newcastle bids to host 2021 tournament

EXCITED: Young Hunter rugby players Leilani Nathan, Isabella Warry, Jorja Holden, Nicole Nathan, Zoe Holden, and Ashley Allen at Dangar Park on Wednesday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
EXCITED: Young Hunter rugby players Leilani Nathan, Isabella Warry, Jorja Holden, Nicole Nathan, Zoe Holden, and Ashley Allen at Dangar Park on Wednesday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

NICOLE Nathan and twin sister Leilani rate the day they met Australian women’s rugby star Sharni Williams as one of the best in their young lives.

The Francis Xavier College students have been aspiring to follow in the Wallaroos’ footsteps ever since. And news on Wednesday that the Hunter is in line to host the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup has only fueled their motivation.

“To wake up to that news was so good and inspiring for us girls,” said Nicole, who along with her sister played for Hunter at the Country Championships this year and against Fiji at No.2 Sportsground in June.

The Hunter is up against bids from New Zealand, France, England and Wales to host the event, which has not been played outside the northern hemisphere since the inaugural tournament in 1991. The winning nation will be announced on November 14. 

If successful, about 360 athletes from 11 countries would descend on Newcastle and the Hunter for the event, which is projected to bring with it a $23 million boost to the NSW economy.

Matches would be played at Maitland Sportsground and Newcastle Sportsground No.2, with the finals to be held at McDonald Jones Stadium.

The NSW government has pledged $5 million towards staging the 12-team tournament, which will be in July and August of 2021.

Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said council staff had worked with the NSW Government and Rugby Australia on the bid.

"The plan started last year when the Wallabies based their training camp at No 2 Sportsground,” she said. “Both the players and officials from Rugby Australia fell in love with our city and saw its potential to play host to a major sporting event. Earlier this year we almost secured the Rugby World Sevens and today we have been confirmed as host city for Australia’s bid for the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup.”

Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle said the Hunter region was “the perfect location to deliver a record-breaking tournament in a truly Australian style – fun, vibrant, exciting, inclusive and innovative”.

Hunter players Mollie Gray (Maitland), Katrina Barker (The Waratahs) and Sarah Riordan were members of the Wallaroos side which finished sixth at the 2017 World Cup in Ireland.

The popularity of women’s rugby, particularly sevens, is growing in the Hunter region.

Girls competitions in under-15s and 17s start later this month and 10-a-side competitions to run alongside the boys are planned for next year.

“By 2021 we will hopefully have establish competitions in 10-a-side for 13s, 15s and 17s,” Junior commitmee member and Hunter Women’s representative coach Gerry Mason said. “Hopefully we van build up numbers to feed into a senior women’s competition. Having a world cup in any sport in your home town would help. You would like to think that the ARU would promote women’s rugby leading up to it. By the time it happens, girls and women’s rugby will be a much bigger thing than it is now.”

In the meantime, the Nathan sisters and the other aspiring players will be following the advice of their hero, Williams.

“Sharni told us to play as many tournament as we could and get as much experience as possible,” Nathan said. “We will train as hard as we can and try and be up there with the best girls.”

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