Jumping Josh "ready" for his Aussie debut in Hamilton

Mens - Hamilton
by Iain Payten

Ask a young footballer how they feel on the eve of their Australian debut and you’ll mostly get nervous, edgy and excited.

But ask Josh Coward and you get something different.

“If I could put in one word, I’d just say “ready”,” Coward says. “I am ready for it.”

Coward will make his maiden appearance for the Australian men’s sevens team on Saturday when the World Sevens Series resumes with round three in Hamilton, New Zealand.

The readiness of Coward, 21, stems from the fact he’s been close to pulling on the gold jersey before; having spent a year with the Australian program in 2016 and 2017.

But it also comes as a by-product of a lifetime of having to work doubly-as-hard as the next guy to win selection in the major rep teams.

Coward is, to use a diplomatic term, lean.

At 80 kilograms, Coward has never been close to the biggest guy in a rugby shed and in the early days emerging through the ranks of junior footy, his name was routinely found in the shadow squads for rep teams.

“And that was pretty much all due to my size,” Coward said.

Rejection had its benefits, though.

From a young age Coward understood his skills, pace and evasion had to make the size chat irrelevant, and his form for the Northern Panthers and St Patricks College in Ballarat, he made it through to the Australian Schools Barbarians team and junior Rebels squads.

“You have to work on the craft and the skills you have, and to make them really good, to take that part out about being one of the small lads,” Coward said.

After being a key member of the silver-medal winning Australian Sevens squad at the Commonwealth Youth Games in September 2015, Coward played for the Rebels under 20s and then moved back to the city of his birth, Brisbane, to play for Sunnybank in Premier Grade Rugby.

After impressing then-coach Andy Friend, Coward was signed to be a member of the Aussie sevens squad in 2016 as an 18-year-old.

He was let go in 2017 but Coward wasn’t ready to fade away.

After more strong form in the Premier Grade, for Queensland at the national 7s tournament and particularly for Souths in the new Queensland Premier Rugby 7s competition this winter, Coward won a recall by new men’s coach Tim Walsh.

“It really does come down to having such a good coach, like I do now with Walshy,” Coward said.

“He is not worried about size, he can see the hard work I have put in and that I can hold my own. He is not based around size, like other coaches sometimes think it should be.”

Coward points to Sam Caslick and Lewis Holland as guys who helped him push past rejection and to winning a spot in the Aussie program back through the Queensland Premier Rugby 7s comp.

“That B is such a good tournament. It has grown Queensland rugby, especially in the sevens world. We have gone three years back-to-back-to-back, in the nationals. It just shows guys can perform there and put themselves on the map,” he said.

Though still young, Coward feels like he has worked his way into a calm readiness to now play for Australia. Well, sort of.

“I have been training and playing in a lot of tournaments now,” he said.

“But there are still some nerves, obviously, playing for my country and running out in front of a lot of family. I have some Kiwi roots, and my parents and girlfriend are flying over.

“So it will be a moment I will never forget. But I am looking forward to it more than anything.”

Making life slightly easier this week has been rooming with Henry Hutchison. The pair played together for Victorian under 12s together.

“We’ve come a fair way,” Coward says.