When you think of the rugby talent nursery in Australia you think Queensland and New South Wales, but one young woman is looking to change that mindset and show the nation that rugby is alive and well in Western Australia.
Eighteen-year-old Shanice Parker has emerged out of Perth as one of the hot new talents on the rugby scene and earned herself a contract with the Australian Sevens squad in Narrabeen.
The women’s game in Australia is seeing growth in development and participation as never before – and it is solely due to the 12 women who stepped onto the Olympic dais in Rio to receive their gold medals.
They have been the face of Australian women’s rugby in 2016 and, as the Aussie Sevens squad looks to create depth while building on its success, it is new emerging talent like Parker who are reaping the benefit of this legacy.
Growing up in Perth with her mother, grandmother and three younger siblings, Parker has rugby in one form or another in her blood with her mother Danielle, a former national rugby league player, having been a member of the Jillaroos' World Cup squad in 2000.
Playing league from the age of five, Parker moved over to union as a teen, training then playing with a local club once she turned 15. She played in the National Youth Sevens tournament in 2014, then the National (Open) Sevens Championships – which saw the unique scenario of mother and daughter teaming up to represent WA.
Going on to play with the Australian Sevens team at the 2015 Youth Commonwealth Games in Samoa, Parker has not looked back, having decided that the Sevens game best suits her style of play and her pace, which is one of her key strengths.
Despite Rugby League being unprepared to let such a talent go quite so easily – offering her a place in the 25-player Jillaroo training squad - Parker decided to remain with union. After a massive 2015, aged just 17, she was named the West Australian Female Rugby player of the year - the highest honour for female rugby players in Western Australia.
“I was leaning more towards Sevens just because there are a lot more opportunities for women, and I think sevens is a game fit more for me; it’s faster, so that’s really what got me into it (with) the pace – it’s different,” said Parker.
Joining the Aussie Sevens squad on an initial development contract in January (2016), Parker took the final step and put pen to paper on a full-time contract in October.
Moving across the country to live in Sydney at just 18 was never going to be easy, but Parker points out one of the key strengths of the Sevens unit is its mentoring culture.
“I moved (six) months ago and, especially moving from Perth, it was hard. But I’ve had so much support from the girls, Walshy and everybody, it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be,” she said.
Parker lives with veteran sevens player and co-captain Shannon Parry and openly acknowledges she could not have wished for better support to start to her Sevens career.
“She’s definitely been a really big mentor, like a big sister, helping me with lots of things since coming in – on and off the field. It’s made the move a lot easier,” she said.
Parker realises that initial expectations of her are to simply work hard on developing her capabilities.
“For the next year, I’m not really looking to get on the World Series circuit, because I just want to improve my game first of all and hopefully get re-contracted and then next year try and hit the World Series,” said Parker.
“The main thing for me now is just to be improving.”
Life outside of rugby is also something which is still taking shape for Parker.
“When I finished school last year, I didn’t go straight into university because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do – I didn’t want to just jump in and do a course that later on wasn’t what I wanted. But recently I’ve been talking to the RUPA people and I want to get into sports psychology,” she said.
Parker’s immediate focus though is on working hard at improving her skillset to get a prized spot on next season’s World Series circuit. But 2018 will also bring with it the enticement of the Commonwealth Games and the Rugby Sevens World Cup.
Parker is now setting out on a path that has been laid by her senior peers, as part of the new generation of women in rugby – something she points out her mother particularly appreciates.
“I think she’s more excited than me. She’s excited to see the pathways that she didn’t have when she was my age – and not just excited for me but for girls rugby in general,” said Parker, who while recognising the significance of becoming a professional sportswoman, cannot help but just enjoy it all the same.
“To be honest, it doesn’t even feel like a job - it feels like I’m just playing rugby every day – living the dream!”