Rugby Union: Nelson Bay's Maya Stewart eyes Wallaroos as Waratahs start Super W defence

FLYER: Maya Stewart is congratulated by Waratahs teammates after crossing for a try against Queensland last year. Picture: Stuart Walmsley
FLYER: Maya Stewart is congratulated by Waratahs teammates after crossing for a try against Queensland last year. Picture: Stuart Walmsley

Maya Stewart had a taste of women's international rugby in November and NSW Waratahs coach Campbell Aitken is confident the Nelson Bay flyer will take the next step and become a fully-fledged Wallaroo this year.

Stewart will start on the left wing when the Waratahs kick-off their Super W title defence against a Newcastle-stacked Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park on Friday.

The 19-year-old was one of the finds of 2019. She was rewarded with a place in the Australia A squad for the Oceania Championships in Fiji and responded with an incredible four tries in a 27-5 win over Samoa.

"Maya, in particular, was quite raw last year," Aitken said. "Given her exposure to the Australia A environment, we fully expect her to be pushing for a spot in the Wallaroos squad this year.

"She just has to spend time playing the game. She is fast, she is elusive, she is strong and she is good defensively. Now it's about learning to read the game a little bit better.

"Her kicking is probably the weakest part of her game. Her speed gets her out of a lot of trouble at club level and at state level. But the next level up, she will be playing against players who are just as quick.

"That is where her overall game - kicking, angle running, knowing when to run and when not to run - needs to improve. That will come through playing more games."

Stewart, who commutes from Nelson Bay three times a week for training, said although still learning, she will take more confidence into her second season.

"Last year I was nervous and trying not to make mistakes," she said. "This year I can put that aside because I have done it all before. Playing at the Oceania Championships also helped. It was a great experience.

"The World Cup [in 2021] is definitely what I'm aiming towards. Maybe playing a Test match beforehand. To get a Test match would be great, even just to be in the squad and experience a game week or anything like that."

First is the Waratahs and the Super W.

Stewart is one of three Newcastle players, alongside centre Katrina Barker and back-up halfback Layne Morgan in the Tahs squad.

"Katrina is one of the best female rugby players in the country," Aitken said. "She has a great rugby brain and her game sense is second to none. Her ability to bring others into the game is what sets her apart.

"Layne has a sevens background. Last year was her first at fifteens and she didn't play much at nine. That is where we see her future. Layne is an exciting talent and similar to Maya, she just needs to learn to play the game. The more we can expose her to that higher level, the better."

They face a Rebels squad spear-headed by Novocastrians Annika Jamieson, Ashleigh Walker, Brook Saunders and Carmen Landkauf. Reds centre Sarah Sarah Riordan complete's the Hunter's Super W contingent.

The Waratahs will start favourites against the Rebels.

"We have spoken about us setting a standard and not dropping below it," Aitken said. "We are expecting a tough game. We respect Melbourne and what they bring but I'd be disappointed if we lost."