Super W: Ono forging own path on rugby's road less travelled

Super W
by Emma Greenwood

She says rugby taught her life, language and culture.

Asako Ono's love for footy may once have proved a barrier but it's now opening doors for one of the most popular members of Queensland's Super W team.

Ono blazed a trail for other Japanese women, such as Queensland clubmate Ayane Hirata to head to Australia to play the game at an elite level.

It's been a tough journey for the now-Ipswich State High School teacher, who did not speak a word of English when she arrived in Brisbane in 2007 to follow her rugby dream.

But Ono wouldn't change a thing as she helps the Queensland women prepare for another Super W finals campaign.

A regular starter in the inaugural Super W campaign last season, the scrumhalf has been forced to bide her time on the sidelines after Queensland picked up Wallaroos half Cobie-Jane Morgan from NSW.

"It's definitely (frustrating) considering I was starting almost every game last year," Ono said.

"We're definitely fighting for positions but it's made me a better player, I think, challenging myself.

"I like to set new goals and work towards them, so from that point of view I'm enjoying the challenge but it's been hard at the same time so it's been a very busy few months for me fighting for my spot." 

: Asako Ono of Queensland passes the ball during the round four Super W match between Queensland Women and the Brumbies Women at Ballymore Stadium on March 16, 2019 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Ono has had to fight to realise her rugby dreams, so the recruitment of Morgan could seem a bitter blow.

But the 28-year-old is no quitter.

"When I heard she was coming up my first instinct was that I was going to have to fight to prove my point," Ono said.

"But at the same time, I knew she was the Wallaroos halfback and she's the number one halfback in the world, so I was excited to learn from her.

"And having that kind of role model in the same team, the same position and as a specialised halfback, that would be an exciting season for me."

Ono was something of an oddity in Japan given her deep love of rugby.

At just 16, she begged her parents to allow her to head to Australia and linked with the University of Queensland club where she followed her dreams, as well as learning to speak English and becoming immersed in the culture of the game she so loved.

 

It's the road less followed, but she said the journey had been worth it.

"Absolutely. It was very difficult, I'm not going to lie, for the first couple of years, especially as I had zero English to start with.

"But now I'm working as a high school teacher at a school where they offer international programs, so I get to meet all the new international students that come over here and want to follow the pathway to excel in whatever career they choose," said Ono, who teaches health and physical education and Japanese at Ipswich High as well as leading the girls' rugby program.

"I haven't met anybody that's come over here to play sport yet, they're over here to learn the language and culture and things like that.

"But I feel like I've been given an opportunity to pass my experience on to them and encourage them to excel and overcome the obstacles that might come into their path. So I feel like I'm giving back to the schooling here.

"But I've never regretted coming over here and I've never got really homesick."

With Morgan now entrenched as Queensland's top no.9, Ono's biggest threat comes from closer to home.

Countrywoman Hirata made her Super W start off the bench in the clash against Western Australia and while the competitor in Ono was disappointed to have missed a run herself, she was proud of what the 23-year-old had achieved.

"It was really nice to see," she said.

"We're both going for the same position, so position-wise, I have to fight for it but also I want to look after her because she's the younger player and as a senior player I need to look after the up and coming players.

"So it's mixed emotions in terms of her coming through and then getting the spot but it's another challenge for me as a player."

Asako Ono of Queensland passes the ball during the Super W match between Queensland Women and New South Wales Women at Suncorp Stadium on March 10, 2018 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Ono, who came off the bench in the Queensland women's 12-0 win against the Brumbies at Ballymore on Saturday, hopes Hirata is not the last Japanese player to make her Super W debut as the game becomes more popular there.

"I would like to create a bridging program that's a pathway, so they might be able to come over for a year or half a year to experience (things)," Ono said.

"The rugby level over here is so much higher than Japan, I believe.

"The majority of rugby over there is sevens and over here it's a bit of both, so I would like to think that in the future, people would come over here and experience the Super W and then the ultimate goal would be for there to be a Japanese team like the Sunwolves (in Super Rugby).

"That's obviously a longterm goal but I'd like to see that in the future."

It might be a big dream but that hasn't stopped Ono in the past.