For a World Cup rugby player whose passport boasts stamps from Brazil, the UAE, Papua New Guinea and Ireland there’s still no better feeling than coming home.
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“The series is really international so it is rare that we get to play in our own countries. Last year was the biggest highlight for me. Playing in front of my family, representing my country on home soil,” says Australian rugby speedster Mahalia Murphy of her time in the gold jersey at the Sydney Sevens, “having my family there to support me was the best feeling. There is no doubt there have been a lot of crazy opportunities overseas but this meant something more.”
The dual international has played rugby league and rugby union on the biggest stage for Australian sides around the world and chalks up a lot her success to the encouragement of her network.
“My mum has been my main supporter, she’s always there pushing me no matter what sport I was doing. It is very difficult for my mum to get around watching the game because she has a disability. Having my mum watching me play for my country was amazing.”
The 24-year old was a late arrival into the rugby fold, competing in athletics before changing pathways in high school in a chase for Rugby Australia’s golden fleece.
“I did athletics growing up and watching Cathy Freeman take the gold medal was inspiring for me, and I have always looked up to her – I wanted to be the next Cathy Freeman.”
In many ways Mahalia is following the giant strides of her Olympic idol, helping other young athletes find a thirst for sport no matter their background.
“I wouldn’t have thought I would have been where I am today. It is hard for people out in my area where I am from, trying to get that exposure because we are so far out west and we don’t have much opportunity for rugby,” shares the World Cup player.
“It is important for me to be a good role model for the younger generation of my culture and any culture really,” says Mahalia, “I do like to put a lot of time forward for indigenous kids as well to give them a bit of hope and confidence and to go out there and not be afraid to face some problems because I have personally faced tough problems. It is about you as an individual staying strong and doing what you have to do, to be where you want to be.”
Murphy was particularly inspired by her countryman the Wallabies, who have already played in a jersey with an indigenous design. The 24-year old is hoping the female athletes are able to follow that lead.
“It would be awesome. If not now then hopefully sometime in the future we will be able to because I am very proud of my culture and it is a beautiful culture. I guess there is a lot of stereotyping with our culture and a lot of judgements. Me being involved in my position I like to use it to show we are successful people as well and we do have talent and we can get anywhere.”
It’s not just fast talk and fancy footwork. Mahalia is taking her message to the grassroots, “I have got a role with Rugby Australia working as a community ambassador so I go out and deliver rugby programs to different places in New South Wales and I’ve been spending a lot of time doing that in the last couple of months so that kids do feel involved in their sport no matter where they live. It doesn’t matter where you come from there is opportunity out there.”
For Murphy her message to the next generation is undoubtedly authentic, “I have accomplished pretty amazing things by taking that opportunity. There are always opportunities out there, it is about whether you go and take them with both hands and make the most of it.”
At 24 there is still plenty of rugby on the horizon for Mahalia.