Sport has played a major role in the junior career of Nelson Bay’s Maya Stewart, excelling in a range of codes from netball and athletics to swimming and touch.
However, it was only when Maya decided to follow in the footsteps of her dad Grant Stewart and lace on a pair of rugby boots earlier this year that the 18-year-old found her calling.
Fast forward 10 months and the naturally gifted athlete is on the short-list to represent her country in the World School U/18 Sevens tournament to be hosted by Pakuranga Rugby Club in Auckland, NZ, on December 14-15.
The Australians will be competing against the world’s best from New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.
To say it’s been a whirlwind 2018 for Maya Stewart would be a gross understatement.
She has had to learn laws of the game, bolster her training regimes, attend representative trials and travel the state.
It has also been a year not without its dramas and injury setbacks.
“I was fortunate that I could transition to rugby union fairly quickly because my dad played the game for years and now I have my brother and sisters playing as well,” Stewart said.
“I made the decision at the start of the year to play rugby for Nelson Bay in a Sevens tournament and as a result I was asked to trial with the Hunter Wildfires.”
From there Stewart was chosen for NSW country to compete in the state championships before being invited to train with the Australian Seven schools team, training at rugby headquarters in Sydney’s Moore Park.
“I am still waiting to hear whether I will be on the NZ tour. It is very exciting I have never been overseas before and I think it will be a great experience for me.”
Stewart’s rapid rise in the Sevens has been replicated in the 15-player form of the game, but a couple of injuries have curtailed her progress.
At 16, Stewart underwent a full knee reconstruction and currently she is nursing an elbow injury after falling awkwardly in a recent game. But the injuries have not diminished her tenacious style.
“There is a big difference between the shorter and longer versions of the game. There is a lot more room in the Sevens which suits me fine because I can back my speed. I am fortunate to have always had the speed to run around opposing players.
“In 15-player rugby you need to be more skillful and smart in the way you approach the game. I am still coming to terms with the rules.”
As for the future, Stewart has a determined aura about her when she talks about pulling on the green and gold of Australia.
“The Rugby Sevens is a popular Olympic sport and yes, definitely, I would love to play at a future Olympics. However, i have time on my hands and I know there is still a lot of hard work to be done,” she said.