New Wallaroos halfback made of the Wright stuff

Thu, Jul 4, 2024, 5:23 AM
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker

Anyone who doubts the toughness of new Wallaroos halfback Nat Wright should have heard her reaction when a fractured cheekbone threatened to ruin her season in March.

When the red-haired Queenslander was told her Buildcorp Super Rugby Women’s season was over before it started, Wright couldn’t accept the verdict and sought a second opinion.

Fresh medical advice gave her the news she wanted. She would need to rest without contact for a few weeks but there was a chance of an earlier return without surgery.

Tears turned to smiles.

That’s the sort of ambition and drive within the sparky halfback selected to make her Test debut on Saturday against Fijiana at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium.

Wright is one of four Queensland Reds picked for the Test. Centre Cecilia Smith and fullback Lori Cramer will bring their experience to the starting side.

Tiarna Molloy’s diligent training since the Super Rugby Women’s season ended has been rewarded with a call-up as bench hooker for what will be her second Test.

For Wright, 21, the excitement is thick in the air.

“You get so many emotions in sport. I’m absolutely stoked and the vibes are just really good with the girls in the team,” Wright said from Sydney.

“Back in March, I was devastated when I cracked my cheekbone in the final trial in Geelong. When it’s such a short Super W, being told your season is over is really difficult.

“I got a second opinion, had some time off and was lucky enough to get back for the last three games.”

Wright’s sharp pass, blindside sniping and energy to always be on the lookout to attack clearly struck a chord with new Wallaroos coach Jo Yapp.

They are skills which translated from her start in rugby sevens.

If anything, she is a poster child for the closer alignment between Australia’s top talent in the 15-a-side game and sevens which is a strategy both the Reds and Rugby Australia are actively embracing.

“For sure, there are skills that transfer but also lots of things to work on and improve,” Wright said.

“Being able to train with (fellow halfbacks) Layne Morgan, Sarah Dougherty and Sammy Wood has been massive for me. They have been passing on tricks of the trade and advice.”

Like so many girls involved in rugby, Wright was a late starter. Sick of being stuck just watching brothers Oscar and Henry play the game, she bumped into just the right person at the right time.

“I used to run out the kicking tee for my brothers,” she recalled.

“One day at Wests, I ran into (women’s rugby advocate) Jo Staples and we had the ‘how do I play?” chat. The next week, I was at training. I reckon I was 15.”

Wright’s initial direction in sevens meant she had a consuming ambition to become an Olympian.

“Being a Wests girl, I remember watching (2016 Olympic gold medallist) Charlotte Caslick training at the club. That was pretty cool,” Wright said.

“Becoming an Olympian was the goal so it was tricky in my head for a while when I switched to 15s. Now, it’s all about playing for the Wallaroos and a World Cup.”

Wright does see the future of 15s and sevens becoming more smartly aligned.

“Already at the Reds, we do sessions where we train with the sevens girls from the Queensland Academy of Sport and they bring their intensity in running and specific skills,” she said.

Wright is rooming with Molloy in Sydney.

“It was a really cool moment when we both found out we were in the 23 for the Test,” Wright said.

“We know what the Fijian girls bring. We have to be spot on because their offloading, running and unpredictability makes them so dangerous.”