Walking with Wallaroos: How Georgia O'Neill traded one stage for another to follow her rugby dream

Womens International
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Playing on some of the biggest stages in sport, even some of the greatest athletes suffer stage fright but it’s fair to say that Georgia O’Neill won’t be one of those.

The 22-year-old flanker, who spoke to RUGBY.com.au as part of the ongoing “Walking with Wallaroos” series, was born to be at the centre of some kind of stage.

For as long as she can remember, O’Neill has been singing, dancing or doing gymnastics, passions that far predated her foray into rugby.

“I've been doing singing and dancing ever since I was a kid,” she said.

“My dad videoed me when I was like 2,3,4, he'd always put on music and just watch me, sit back and see what I would do and I would just express myself and dance.

“Ever since then I've always loved music and I've always loved dancing and expressing myself.”

Georgia O'Neill (right) has a passion for dance and musical theatre. Photo: SuppliedIt was this passion that saw take a year away from rugby in 2017 as she contemplated whether to pursue a Wallaroos jersey.

O’Neill spent the year juggling gymnastics teaching with some theatre projects, including a stint in Chicago with the Canberra Philharmonic Society.

“My biggest musical I did was Chicago through the Philharmonic Society and got to just dance, wear the whole cabaret outfits and was pretty full-on,” she said.

“It was different but that's what theatre is, you just go with anything.”

The cast of Chicago, which O'Neill featured in in 2017. Photo: SuppliedShe hasn’t completely walked away from her passion for the arts , keen to develop an album with her father down the track and still balancing her rugby commitments with jobs as a barista and a gymnastics teacher.

It's the latter in which she has really begun to see the impact of the growth in women's rugby on the wider community.

"I used to do gymnastics as a kid and then my mum pulled me into teaching," she said.

"We teach kids from 5-7 and then 7-12 and 13-year-olds, it's a fun environment, kids are learning all those fundamentals and there are kids that aren't flexible and aren't coordinated but they're there to have fun and then there's kids that are super flexible and want to learn heaps of those things.

"It's the best of both worlds.

Georgia O'Neill (left) in costume for a show. Photo: Supplied"There are some kids that are pretty supportive of the Brumbies men's team and then obviously we're getting incorporated now which is fantastic.

"It makes me so happy to see such life and spark in the young kids and a few of them have said, "I want to play rugby one day!" so that's a good sign."

Rugby isn’t the first sport that O’Neill has tried her hand at - she was nearly on the path to being a national boxer after an Australian Institute of Sport talent day.

  WALKING WITH WALLAROOS: MHICCA CARTER

  WALKING WITH WALLAROOS: ALYSIA LEFAU-FAKAOSILEA

“The AIS were scouting for talent and I went to that for Sevens rugby,” she said.

“I didn’t get picked because of my speed but they offered me combat sports like judo, boxing, taekwondo.

“Then transitioned into boxing, got picked through that and it was an awesome experience.

“It was very physical and demanding but the experience was crazy. I would do it again but (If if was) picking one or the other, a team sport is where I want to go.”

Georgia O'Neill has stamped her authority on the Super W competition. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyUltimately, the team element of rugby won her over and when the inaugural Super W competition was announced that convinced her to prioritise the sport once again.

O’Neill has stamped herself as one of the nation’s best backrowers since returning to the sport, inspired by Wallabies superstar David Pocock.

Pocock has spent time at Super W training, also running water for the team during matches, and O’Neill said she often sought out vision of Pocock to try and improve her game.

“For our game against WA, I quickly looked up some video clips of Pocock around the ruck and just thought, “Those are things I want in my head when I'm around the ruck or in the game,” and I took on board some of his little tactics,” she said.

“I'm privileged to be able to know him and have him be with us to do a few things.”

Georgia O'Neill (third from left) singing the anthem at ANZ Stadium in 2018. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyClearly those tactics are working - O’Neill was recently named in another Wallaroos’ extended squad ahead of July’s Test series against Japan.

Having the chance to play for the Wallaroos is not something that O’Neill ever truly imagined would happen but her 2018 debut is a moment she will not soon forget.

“I didn't know what to expect,” she said.

“You always say, I want to sing the national anthem for my country and wear the emblem on your chest but I didn't know it until I actually felt it in that moment and tears and all and just proud moment.

“I'm sure everyone, when they experience it, they have that same feeling of honour.”

The Wallaroos open their Test season next month in Newcastle against Japan before a two-Test series against the Black Ferns in Perth and Auckland.

WALLAROOS 2019 FIXTURES

All matches LIVE on FOX SPORTS and Kayo.

Saturday July 13 - Australia vs Japan, Newcastle Sportsground no. 2

Friday July 19 - Australia vs Japan, North Sydney Oval

Saturday August 10 - Australia vs New Zealand, Optus Stadium, Perth,

Saturday August 17 - New Zealand vs Australia, Eden Park, Auckland

The Australian Rugby Foundation are supporting the Wallaroos and their journey to the 2021 Women’s Rugby Cup. Click here for information and to donate.