Team culture the ultimate draw card for Murphy

by Jill Scanlon

A naturally gifted runner with the world of athletics shining brightly in her future, the lure of rugby's team culture drew Mahalia Murphy into rugby.

The 23-year-old joined the Aussie squad in 2015 - a year that saw her compete internationally for both league and union in the green and gold.

Murphy grew up running around her neighbourhood with friends, playing pick-up games of basketball with her family, but was never really involved in any organised sports.

“I didn’t really do any sports as a child. I was quite athletic and would have loved to have played sport (but) I basically just played street ball with my family,” said Murphy.

It was a different matter at school, where the opportunity to run and compete made her the fastest throughout her primary school years and planted the dream of bigger things to come.

“As a kid I was naturally fast and I did athletics. I always thought I was going to be the next Cathy Freeman – she was my idol as a runner," she said.

From that point on, Murphy seemed to find herself in the right place at the right time to venture ever closer to her goals.

Murphy turned her back on athletics to play rugby. Photo: WalmsleyShe was spotted in a primary school athletics competition in Year 5 and offered the opportunity to attend a sports secondary school of excellence, where athletics became her focus.

With her first taste of rugby coming at 16, when she unexpectedly filled in for her sisters’ team, Murphy quickly developed a taste for the game and that team environment. 

She was selected in her school XVs the following year and the passion for being a part of a rugby team was reignited.

“Once I finished high school I sort of pushed athletics to the side and started playing rugby on the weekends – and rugby league as well,”she said.

Playing in an annual Koori competition led to selection in the Indigenous All Stars Rugby League team to play against the Australian All Stars and from that, an invitation to join the Jillaroos training camp quickly followed.

From training it was a small step to Jillaroos duty and before Murphy knew it she was facing up to the Kiwis in the 2015 ANZAC Test.

Aussie Sevens coach Tim Walsh was a keen observer of that match and quickly offered Murphy a chance to play in Papua New Guinea at the 2015 Pacific Games and with that,she took her first major step towards her Sevens futre.

“I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Moving over to Sevens and having the opportunity to play for Australia in another code – it was just overwhelming,” she said.

“Within the space of less than a year I represented Australia in both codes and I could not have been more rewarded."

A challenge from the beginning is how she describes her evolving love of the game with the work ethic, the intensive training and the team spirit all key factors in her enjoyment of Sevens.

“It’s such an intense and competitive sport. It’s so challenging. I love that about it - the level of the training in Aussie Sevens and the knowledge; how much I have learnt just from being in the squad is incredible," she said.

The team culture, so often spoken of around this unit, has been the catalyst for Murphy’s continual development as a player.

The essence of being a part of a team is what first drew her to rugby from the individual nature of athletics and still spurs her on to give her best.

“We basically live and breathe it. I have just gained so much knowledge and experience of the sport, all with the help of the others so that’s definitely helped me improve and develop,”she said.

“They love you to be at your best - everyone is striving for excellence and is so supportive and encouraging I feel that it brings out the best in me.

“To have that culture is important and it makes things easier and more fun.”

A strong part of Murphy’s own sense of culture is her passion for her Indigenous heritage.

“For me it’s extremely important. There’s a lot of stereotyping of Aboriginal people,” she said.

“There are a lot of us that are naturally talented and have potential, that’s why it’s important for me because of the history of our people and moving forward with our culture in a positive way.

“Especially in sport, underlining the positives to inspire other kids and show them that they can do it as well.”

For Murphy, family and community are paramount.

“I love kids so when I can I try to do things with my nieces and nephews,”Murphy said.

In her time-off she runs free training sessions for her local community to get people out, moving and a chance at some exercise.

“It’s good to give back, so I do get involved in the community a lot and I try to give back and get out especially the remote ones, when I can,” she said.

With the World Series all but done and dusted for another year, Murphy will no doubt be out and about more but with a strong focus on the months to come as she prepares for off-season tournaments, pre-season training and a massive 2018.

The Aussie Sevens play in Clermont this weekend in the final World Series round, streaming live on