Central North Rugby: Gunnedah to tackle Inverell in first ever womens 7s grand final

One of the greatest assets in the seven’s game is speed, and Fiona Laurie has that in spades.

Grand final here we come: The Red Devils celebrate their preliminary final win over Pirates. Photo: Lincoln Stewart

Grand final here we come: The Red Devils celebrate their preliminary final win over Pirates. Photo: Lincoln Stewart

It’s one of the reasons that when John Hickey signed on to coach the Red Devils in their maiden Central North womens 7s season she was one of the first people he sought out about playing.

He knew of her sprinting pedigree having coached her as a youngster, although as Laurie confessed she was “a bit lazy” with her training.

“There is no doubt Fiona is an outstanding runner,” Hickey said.

“I went looking for her when we set the team up.”

“She’s really taken to the game. I think she’s been the best winger in the competition.”

The 26-year old is the Red Devils’ top try-scorer, and equal third overall for the competition with 19 tries.

It’s a feat all the more remarkable for the fact that the Red Devils only scored four tries in their first eight games.

Laurie had played a bit of oztag before this season but her main sporting interest was horse riding.

It is a big jump from the saddle to the football field, and Laurie said she “took a lot of convincing”.

“Even half-way through the season I was still thinking ‘what am I doing?’,” she said.

“But I really love it. It pulled me in.”

Asked what it was that she loves about it, she answered: “I guess I love we’ve come so far. We all started off with really basic skills,” she said.

The Red Devils are the Cinderella story of the competition. Winless after their first 12 games they are now on the precipice of becoming the first ever womens 7s champions.

“I’m really excited. The nerves haven’t kicked in yet,” Laurie said.

She pin-pointed that first win over Scone in Round 9 as when it probably really clicked for them.

“We thought we can actually win a game now. We never had winning as a goal, we only had making ourselves better,” she said.

They will go in as underdogs on Saturday against a much more experienced Inverell side.

“They’ve got quite a few girls in the Central North team and that play in the Australian Uni comp and they will be tough,” Laurie said.

That doesn’t worry the Red Devils, who are unfazed by reputations and are brimming with confidence after toppling minor premiers Pirates in the preliminary final.

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Hickey has often spoken of the way they play as a team and Laurie re-iterated that, attributing their success to their team-work.

Drawn together from a variety of vocations, some of them had never played any sort of sport before, they have found a mutual passion and there is a real sense of camaraderie.

“We all work together and they’re a great bunch of girls,” Laurie said.

She said the toughest thing to learn was tackling – “trying to get used to trying to make a tackle, and being tackled”.

Much like fellow back Bec Smyth, the desire to not get tackled is one of the secrets to her try-scoring success.

Speed to burn: The sight of Fiona Laurie racing away to score has been a common one for Gunnedah this season. Photo: Lincoln Stewart

Speed to burn: The sight of Fiona Laurie racing away to score has been a common one for Gunnedah this season. Photo: Lincoln Stewart

“You run very fast because you just try not to get tackled and don’t want to be tackled,” she said.

As she showed in the preliminary final where she scored a double and sealed the Red Devils spot in the decider with a 50m runaway in the final minute.

The town has been gripped by grand final fever in the last fortnight, and following on from the AFL and league sides albeit unsuccessful efforts, Laurie said there is a real buzz about the Red Devils’.

“We’ve had heaps of support. There’s a Facebook page and lots of people are writing on it,” she said.

A teacher at Gunnedah South, she has also received plenty of well-wishes from her Year 6 class, and even a few words of wisdom.

“Lots of the boys play league and try to tell me what to do,” she joked.