GRACE Hamilton has made no secret of her desire to see women’s rugby grow in the Central West, but she never imaged she’d help do it as skipper of the Wallaroos.
Come Saturday Hamilton, who hails from Panuara, will lead the national women’s side into battle against Japan.
It will not only be the first time Hamilton has skippered the Wallaroos, but the 27-year-old will act as an example of the path current Central West talents could take.
Talents such as Bathurst Bulldog Jakiya Whitfeld and Western Region Academy of Sport graduate Darcie Morrison who are currently playing sevens in national colours in Samoa as part of the Pacific Games.
“Girls who come to our game on Saturday will be like ‘I want to be there one day’ and I hope they are because country girls are good girls to have in the team,” Hamilton, who made her national debut in 2016, said.
“It will be good, woah, I’m getting emotional [just thinking about it].
“I don’t know what it’s going to feel like, but I just can’t wait to get out there. This jersey means so much to me and my family and everyone who has supported me.”
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Leading the Australians will add to what has already been a bumper season for talented number 8 Hamilton.
She helped the Waratahs to a Super W crown, her efforts in the blue jersey including a pivotal role in her return to the Central West in March when NSW crushed Western Australia at Ashwood Park.
It’s an example of how far she’s come – and the sport as a whole for women – since growing up in Panuara and being a rugby spectator instead of a player.
“There wasn’t a lot of women’s rugby when I was growing up. There might have been some, but it wasn’t something that was really on the sporting scene in the Central West, whereas now I know it’s growing and going from strength to strength,” she said during her Bathurst visit.
“It’s something I’d obviously like to … try and help build it tenfold.”
Making a winning start to her tenure as captain in the Test at Newcastle on Saturday will not be easy, with Hamilton recalling the challenge Japan posed the Wallaroos during the 2017 World Cup.
Though Hamilton and her fellow Wallaroos won that encounter 21-15, it taught her not to underestimate the Cherry Blossoms. She will have nine debutants in her side on Saturday, four of them in the starting line-up.
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“Japan are tough and in the World Cup they came at us,” Hamilton, who has 11 Test caps to her credit, said.
“I remember standing behind the goal posts saying we need to stick to our structures and we need to come out firing because they are very structured and they will come at us.
“We’ve just got to go out there, do our best game and put our best foot forward.”
Japan has not played a Test since that World Cup campaign, but Cherry Blossoms captain Saki Minami said her side is “very excited to play again and have been preparing well.”
Hamilton will skipper Australia against Japan again next Friday at North Sydney Oval, while next month she and her Wallaroos also have a two-Test series against New Zealand.
Saturday’s match kicks off at 3pm.