If you asked Emily Chancellor at the start of the year to rate her chances of becoming the 2018 Wallaroos Player of the Year, she would have responded with a shake of her head.
After being under an injury cloud at the start of the season due to a foot fracture obtained at last year’s National 7s Championships, the 28-year-old began the year not knowing if she’d be able to quickly re-find her feet in rugby, let alone rise to the top.
In the end, however, Chancellor managed to do both – and in two forms of the game as well.
In what would prove to be an epic year for the Sydneysider, Chancellor ended up playing club rugby, Aon Uni 7s and – in a career high point – made her debut for the Wallaroos in Sydney against the Black Ferns.
“It’s just been and incredible year,” she said.
“To come back from an injury to start with from nationals in sevens almost a year ago today, to work through to make it back, to play club rugby, then to get selected in the Wallaroos squad and play two tests and then the Aon University Sevens Series.
Chancellor’s injury meant she missed out on the inaugural Super W competition, which was won by her NSW teammates.
While missing out is her biggest regret of the year, it has also ensured Chancellor will have no lack of motivation to make 2019 an even bigger year.
“To not be able to play in the inaugural round of the Super W was real disappointment,” Chancellor said.
“Thankfully the NSW squad was really supportive of me and got me in to do all of my rehab.
“It’s so hard to watch your friends play great rugby and get these opportunities when you’re injured, but that’s all part of rugby, it’s part of sport. You get injured and have to sit of the sideline sometimes.
“To watch it only made me sure that I really wanted to get back out there and play more rugby.”
Although she wasn’t on the pitch, Chancellor cheered on from the sidelines in what ended up being a 92-minute, extra-time show down.
Ash Hewson kicked a match-winner to claim the inaugural title for the unbeaten NSW women.
“Everyone was just up out of their chairs for the whole of the extra time. It was incredible.
“I know as a NSW supporter that we were always going to get there and to see Ash Hewson make that try-saving tackle and then to kick the penalty and win the game. You know when Ash has got the boot you can feel pretty safe.”
Chancellor made her return soon after, turning out in the green and gold for the Wallaroos when Australia faced the Black Ferns at ANZ Stadium in August’s Bledisloe double header.
“Words don’t describe the feeling of playing you first game for your country on home soil,” she said.
“To be able to have all my family and friends physically being able to be there, it was incredible.”
Despite slipping to the Ferns 31-11, the debutant was the stand out Aussie player of the night, setting up the Wallaroos’ only try through Alisha Hewett.
With a string of more outstanding performances to come, the no.6 was crowned the Wallaroos Player of the year at this year’s Rugby Australia awards.
“I was blown away, I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Chancellor said.
“I guess it shows hard work pays off and that must be what they’ve seen this year with just the two Tests to be basing that off.”
Chancellor now hopes her efforts can rub off on the next generation of young girls coming through in rugby.
Her experiences this year alone are proof that anything is possible, and she believes women’s rugby can only keep growing from here.
“I think it’s so important to have rugby out there for girls to see. If you don’t have it on TV you don’t have the message out there that this is an option to compete against other sports that are playing and growth of women’s sport across the country,” she said.
“It’s really hard for us to be able to influence a generation, but to have the games before the men’s or double headers it’s definitely a great opportunity for the growth of the game.”