The University of New England will aim to make history when they line up as part of the inaugural National University Sevens Series and they have one of the world’s best to help them in their journey to secure the title.
Rio gold medalist Gemma Etheridge has signed on as the university’s ambassador for the series, which includes eight teams from across Australia.
UNE is the only regional university in the competition and one of two from NSW.
Etheridge grew up playing touch football in Coolah before making the switch to rugby sevens. Being a country girl herself, Etheridge said she is excited to help players with similar backgrounds reach the top level.
”Having a team based out of rural NSW is a massive opportunity for many girls who have wanted the chance to play in a high level competition,” she said.
“It gives them the opportunity to receive high quality coaching, regular training and skill development.
“Some amazing athletes come from the country, it just takes them a little longer to be found and this will be a great platform.”
Sport UNE’s Tom Bower was appointed to the role of Lions head coach and said having Etheridge on board will help take the team to a professional level.
"The involvement from Gemma we will get is she will be here to be a mentor for the girls as well as anything we need in terms of building culture, mature and professional attitude to challenge a national championships,” he said.
"That kind of experience is invaluable to us.
“We are the only regional university in this competition and that is why Gemma is very supportive as well.”
Bower said it is an exciting opportunity for UNE to put themselves on the map as one of the country’s best sporting universities.
"We have been identified as well for talented athletes, not only in rugby sevens but many different areas,” he said.
"I think that is what helped us with securing a team.
"It always provides a pathway for girls in Northern NSW so they don't feel they have to go to Sydney to become a professional athlete.”
The team is yet to be selected with registrations for a trial opening soon.
Lions coaching and strength and conditioning staff will travel to Sydney next week to spend time with the Australian Pearls to learn about their training drills and make sure they are on track with their own programs.
Training will be all over the northern part of the state to spark interest in the sport among the region’s athletes.
New England clubs will also have representatives involved to help recruit talent.