In October last year, Cassie Staples had never played a game of rugby sevens.
Now she is a full-time member of the Australian women’s squad.
Staples has enjoyed a meteoric rise in her new sport since switching from netball late last year. The 24-year-old was a member of the Sutherland Stingrays side that won the inaugural Netball NSW Premier League title last season. But then, the rugby bug bit.
Staples asked her trainer Justin Lang to prepare her to switch codes. They formed a team, the Pride 7s, a Cronulla-based rugby sevens program for women from a variety of sporting backgrounds.
A YouTube video of Staples working in the gym, sent to the Australian Rugby Union by Lang, saw Australia sevens coach Tim Walsh invite her for a week of training and testing. Her speed test put her only behind Rio Olympic star and former sprinter Ellia Green. Staples’ performance was enough for Walsh to send her away to play some rugby sevens with three instructions: to develop a strong left and right pass, show a willingness for the contact side of the game and show what she could do with the ball.
And Staples made the most of her opportunity, training up to five times a day. She was rewarded with a place in an Australian Development Squad to play in the Darwin 7s. From there she found herself on a plane to Canada to make her World Series debut and last month earned her first full-time contract.
“Probably in some ways it’s been overwhelming but really exciting at the same time,” she said.
“The last 10 months it’s all happened really, really quickly but I was training a lot. I really wanted it and kind of made it happen. I didn’t sit back and wait, I definitely went in with a plan and intent to try and crack it.”
Staples had never passed a rugby ball or made a tackle. And in 10 months, through nothing but hard work and dedication, she had broken into the squad of the 2016 Rio Olympic gold medalists.
The winger credits Lang, a shire-based exercise physiologist, with being crucial to achieving her goals.
“I couldn’t even find words to describe how important his role is in my life,” she said.
“As a coach and mentor, he’s constantly making the right decisions and making sure I’m heading in the right direction in my career and with my training regime.
“It’s not always a smooth ride. We disagree on things from time to time and I’ve learnt he’s always right. I trust everything he says and his philosophy. He’s a very smart man with a lot of experience.”
Next year is a big one for Australia with a home Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in April and the World Cup in San Francisco in June. And Staples also has her sights set on helping Australia win more gold in Tokyo in 2020.
“[The Olympics is] 100 per cent the pinnacle of my goals,” she said.
“It’s definitely top of the list, Tokyo 2020. It’s in the back of my mind every time I’m training. I saw what the girls did in Rio and see it right now as my ultimate goal.
“It would be a dream come true to get named in the Commonwealth Games side [as well]. The World Cup side, the World Series as well next year. At the moment I’m focused on training with the squad as hard as I can to enhance my skills and potential and hopefully that gets me to where I want to be.”