Thrust into the international spotlight as a teenager by the viral ‘Rugby War Goddess’ video, Georgia Page knows a thing or two about false expectations.
Four years later, as part of a Melbourne Rebels Super W team which has conceded 181 unanswered points in two matches, she’s using her experience to help the under-siege squad get up off the canvas and keep fighting for respect at AAMI Park this evening against Rugby WA.
Outclassed over the first two rounds by a red-hot Queensland (112-0) and the Brumbies (69-0), head coach Alana Thomas felt the need to publicly defend her young players this week after calls from within the Victorian rugby community that they shouldn’t be in the competition.
Pre-season injuries to Wallaroo squad member and half back Georgia Cormick, experienced prop Merenesa Tapuai and the early loss of playmaker Tauala Hunt in the defeat to the Reds have resulted in rookies going up against veterans in key positions, and the Rebels have been on the back foot since kick off three weeks ago.
After impressing off the bench at full back in round one, Page tackled herself to a standstill against the attacking waves of Brumbies on Sunday in Queanbeyan, and will be defending on the front line at outside centre today against the hard-running West Australians.
But she won’t be thinking about the infamous feats of 2015 performed in the Collegiate Rugby Championship for Lindenwood - actions which have been viewed more than 1,700,000 times on YouTube and earned her almost overnight Insta-fame.
“It actually hindered me because I felt like I needed to perform because I had this big social media following which ended up making me worse, not better,” says Page, who starred for Bond University in the Aon Uni 7s series over the past two seasons.
“I felt pressured to do well because I was in that spotlight. I’d always be worried about things like the comment; ‘she’s not a good player so why does she have so many followers’, I’d always feel like I’d need to play really well to change that.
“There was pressure to perform from external people rather than just focussing on doing better for myself each game.
“I was pretty harsh on myself over it, but once I realised that it didn’t really matter what those people think, that’s when I started improving.”
It’s a lesson Thomas hopes her Rebels have taken on board in a week where she sought to lighten the mood with a Wednesday-night social outing at City of Melbourne Bowls Club, before yesterday’s Captain’s Run.
The recent explosion in popularity of all women’s sport in Australia has raised the public expectation of where the bar should be set but, in reality, all Super W players are unpaid and Thomas is drawing from the shallowest pool of talent in the nation.
“I think (AFLW star) Darcy Vescio articulated it really well when she said; ‘we are the PE Teachers that are teaching your kids, we are the train drivers, the nurses nursing you in hospitals’,” says Thomas, who penned a column during the week on the club’s website to ‘reset public expectation’.
“That was pretty much what it was all about, saying; ‘hey, look at where we’re coming from, look at what we’re building, and we have a plan in place and we’re working very hard’.
“You can’t expect to have such massive growth in such a short period of time.”
The lop-sided results have led to calls for more even redistribution of Wallaroos talent around the five Super W squads, but Gold Coast-based Page believes this talk is premature.
“You can’t distribute Wallaroos talent unless they’re paid - you have stacked teams in NSW and Queensland because they’re bigger rugby states - but we can’t bring Wallaroos girls down to Melbourne unless there’s money involved,” says the 23-year-old, who responded to a new nation-wide Rebels recruiting strategy in 2019.
“I’m really grateful that we have this competition, Rugby Australia’s done well to do that, (main sponsor) Buildcorp is awesome, but we are still very behind the times (in contrast to other codes).
“I know we’re laying a platform for younger generations, but a lot of us are struggling.
“All of us either work full time, full-time mums, full-time uni students - I saved money to come - but they (television viewers) expect elite-level standard.
“You can’t have expectations of elite-level standard when we’re not professional athletes.”
What is of a pro standard is Page’s aggression, motivation and on-field chat. She may cringe whenever the Rugby War Goddess moniker is mentioned, but that teenager spitting a mouthful of blood onto a pitch in the American Mid West is very much the same athlete revving up her Rebels teammates in the huddle under the posts.
“Yep, she’s loud. You know what she’s saying on the field because you can hear it in the coach’s box,” says Thomas.
“But that’s the stuff we need to get better at and having those players there doing it is really good for the younger girls, seeing the energy she brings to the team and to herself when she’s talking and up and about.
“She brings a different attitude and mentality as well. We say we need to be more aggressive and that’s something she definitely brings, she’s not afraid of contact, she’s actually quite abrasive, she seeks it out.”
A fifth-year osteopath student at Southern Cross University, Page spends the start of every week studying on the Gold Coast before flying to Melbourne on Wednesday, and bunks down with her dog and other interstate players at captain Meretiana Robinson’s home In Melbourne’s west.
“I think I would have made the (Queensland) squad, but I don’t know whether I would have consistently made the 23 and how much playing time I would have gotten,” Page says of her decision to try out for the Rebels.
“I didn’t really feel like sitting on a bench, I wanted to play, and there’s so much talent in Queensland, why not share the talent around the rest of Australia?
“I knew if I was still on the Gold Coast, I’d be commuting to Brisbane, working two jobs and been at uni, and it would have been stretching myself too far.
“So I planned and I saved my money to come to Melbourne so I could just focus on rugby.
“I don’t have any money, but I don’t have to worry about stretching myself.”
For a battling student, using her status as an Instagram influencer for a few extra bucks must be tempting, but Page believes she has finally found a good balance with her online interaction.
“When it first happened I really got involved in social media and tried to build profile, and then I was offered an influencer contract with a modelling company,” she says.
“I would take jobs off them with other companies and sell products, essentially being paid for posts, so it was like a business to me.
“But now I am more just being myself on Instagram. I’ll promote things that I use, or that I believe in, but I’m not so much looking for jobs any more.”
Social media has given today’s athletes greater ability to leverage off their profile during their limited time in the spotlight, but Page admits such influence can be overwhelming, and says her posts are genuine and about being a positive role model.
“Instagram is just a hassle at times. It takes up so much time, and you get so obsessed with things - looking at people’s posts - you end up getting envious of other people even though their photos are Photoshopped,” she says.
“Their photos might look really good in that moment, or they might look happy, but behind the scenes they’re miserable. Instagram can be a lie.
“I share my experiences through Instagram because I know other people might be going through the same thing, or it’s just happened and they don’t know how to handle it.
“Eventually I will use it for business because it’s the cheapest and easiest way to promote something, but I’m only going to do it if I believe in it.”
She’s had plenty of opportunity to prove herself in defence, but Page is hoping for more opportunity in attack at AAMI park today with a new halves combination of Jessie Treherne and skipper Robinson.
“I haven’t had any ball to run with really, the runs I have had are from scrappy ball and I’ve just run straight,” she says.
“There just hasn’t been much space and time to run with the ball, but I enjoy the other aspects, like defence and clearing out.
“It’s obviously been a lot different to sevens, which really tests your athletic ability and mental strength, whereas 15s is team culture, sticking more to structure and more contact.”
Due to graduate in December, Page is unsure whether she’ll be able to return to Melbourne for the third Super W season, but she’ll definitely be back in Bond’s Aon Uni 7s squad later in the year and waging rugby war on a pitch wherever she ends up in 2020.
“I just love playing, the team culture, being in that environment, I like training, learning:” she says.
“And how often is it you find something you really love?”