This past weekend Rugby Australia announced their Australian Sevens squads ahead of the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, and Queensland athletes have featured heavily across both the men’s and women’s squads.
For the second Olympics in a row, Queensland representatives have made up 50 per cent of the Australian Women’s team, with six players in total hailing from the Sunshine State.
Australian Women’s Rugby stalwart Shannon Parry has been named as co-captain of the side, while on the other end of the scale, 19-year-old Madison Levi – an uncontracted player - has been selected out of the Queensland Academy of Sport (QAS) Women’s Sevens Academy, following her performances in the AON University 7s series and the recent Oceania Sevens in Townsville.
Fellow QAS graduates Demi Hayes and Dom du Toit have also been named in the squad, alongside long serving Sevens stars Charlotte Caslick and Evania Pelite, while James ‘Chucky’ Stannard will be heading to Japan as an assistant coach of the Women’s team.
Within the Men’s squad, coached by former St.George Queensland Reds flyhalf Tim Walsh, University of Queensland product Nick Malouf will captain the side, while former Reds captain Samu Kerevi has earned selection in the 12-man squad after returning to Australia from Suntory in Japan.
For fleet-footed Josh Coward, his selection is the culmination of a road back to Sevens stardom, after working his way into the squad at the tail end of 2018, following stand out performances for Souths in the inaugural Queensland Premier Rugby Sevens series for Souths, which saw him named the player of the series. University of Queensland’s Joe Pincus rounds out the Queensland contingent heading to Tokyo.
The number of Queenslanders selected is a reflection of the work that has been put into the QAS Sevens pathway, initially by Sevens National Pathway Talent Manager – Lachlan Parkinson - who formerly headed up the QAS Sevens Academy, and by current program high performance manager Reg Tayler.
The duo, with the support of the QAS, have been able to identify and work with Queensland’s most promising athletes to prepare them for the international stage.
Australian Men’s Sevens head coach Tim Walsh, who previously coached the Women’s side to a Gold Medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio said: “To see the players Lachlan and Reg have coached and the systems they have put in place, having those players graduate to the Australian squads and now prepare to compete at the Olympics, they’ve helped ensure that both teams qualified, and in particular in the last year during Covid, ensuring players were in a position to be competitive.
“Covid brought about both challenges and opportunities, people like Lachlan and Reg, both hard workers and knowledgeable in the game of Sevens, they worked tirelessly and it puts us in a good position in terms of developing players and innovating in terms of creating competitions. They worked collaboratively with Rugby AU throughout the last 18 months to help us reach this point.”
Levi is the latest graduate of the program, having come through Queensland’s Schools Sevens pathway under Matt Chapman at Miami State Highschool, winning the All Schools 7s in her final year of school in 2019, before going on to represent Queensland at the National Junior Championships.
Alongside her younger sister Teagan, Levi took out that tournament and has since gone on to star for Bond University in the AON University Sevens. One of the keys to Levi’s success, has been the collaborative approach to her development that Rugby AU and QRU have taken alongside the Gold Coast Suns, who Levi has represented in AFL W.
“Maddie’s selection is testament to our pathway here in Queensland,” said Tayler.
“She has been a standout throughout our Queensland youth teams, then carried that form through to the AON University 7s and has been one of our best performers within the QAS squad.
“Her selection has come earlier than expected, but it wasn’t a surprise. Her performances in Townsville at the Oceania Sevens as part of the Oceania team sealed the deal for her, as the Australian coaches saw her perform against the New Zealand, Fiji and the Australian teams.
“Maddie’s progression shows that our programming here in Queensland is world class. She wasn’t part of the central contracted Sevens squad, but we were able to provide her with a top-level environment to train in and helped prepare her for this moment.
“We hope we can continue to develop players and have more representation at the upcoming Commonwealth Games.
“Overall, we’ve held the women’s quota at 50% within the squad for the second Olympic cycle in a row and our men’s representation has grown. It’s a massive achievement for our program and a thankyou needs to go to the QAS for their support, as well as all the coaches, trainers and medical staff who’ve been involved.”
Queensland’s Premier Rugby clubs have also helped develop the next generation of Sevens talent, with Coward’s elevation through the Premier Rugby Sevens Series clear evidence of this.
“It was in the QPR Sevens that we saw Josh Coward get his fight back,” said Walsh.
“I couldn’t ignore him, I came to every event and he performed under pressure and was player of the series.
“He then had to opportunity to join us at the training base in Sydney, he did everything right. He trained hard and eventually got his opportunity on the World Series. He kept working again and has found himself heading to the Olympics.
“Without the Premier Rugby Sevens, I’m not sure if he would have had that opportunity as he wouldn’t have been playing quality matches week-in-week-out.”
Following the culmination of the Oceania Sevens in Townsville, the two sides are now based in Cairns ahead of their departure for the Olympics, and Walsh couldn’t be happier with the support they’ve received from the local Rugby community.
“Everyone in North Queensland has been excellent,” he said.
“There was a massive group of volunteers who helped us get the Oceania Sevens off the ground and with the support of the State Government we’ve been able to base ourselves in Cairns, enabling us to finalise our preparations for the Tokyo.”
Australian Women’s Sevens Team for Tokyo 2020
1.Shannon Parry – Queensland
4.Dominique Du Toit - Queensland
6.Evania Pelite - Queensland
7.Charlotte Caslick - Queensland
11.Demi Hayes – Queensland
12.Maddison Levi* - Queensland
Australian Men’s Sevens Team for Tokyo 2020
2.Joe Pincus – Queensland
4.Nicholas Malouf - Queensland
7.Joshua Coward - Queensland
10.Samu Kervei* - Queensland
* Denotes uncapped player