Cassie Staples: The Aussie 7s star built in less than 18 months
A few weeks after watching the Australian women’s Sevens side win a gold medal at the Rio Olympics, a young netballer from Cronulla in Sydney’s south decided she wanted to play rugby.
Cassie Staples was already a State League netballer and had been training at an elite level for five years, but the 24-year old now had a new goal.
“I sent a training clip of her deadlifting 130kg and doing muscle ups to Tim Rapp at the Waratahs and he forwarded it onto the ARU,” Justin Lang, an exercise physiologist at Live Athletic told Rugby News.
“Tim Walsh (Australian women’s coach) saw the video and invited her in to do some testing and she ran the second quickest time over 40 metres in the squad.”
Walsh told Staples that while he was impressed with her athletic ability, she needed to learn to play rugby. He said the current Australian women’s squad had three to four years of experience and that the best way to learn the game was to play it.
“There were no Sevens programs in southern Sydney, so I told Cas that I would start one,” Lang continued.
“We did a social media recruitment drive and basically said that we were looking for talented female athletes that were interested in playing Sevens.
“We wanted girls with strength, speed and fitness and then we created a program based around what the Australian Women’s Sevens girls were doing.”
In November 2016, Pride Sevens was born and the program quickly attracted a handful of ambitious female athletes from around southern Sydney.
“We had Premier League netballers, representative soccer players, basketball players, a few league and touch players, a dancer, hockey players, beach sprinters and an Australian Oztag representative.
“Basically we had to teach them every skill from scratch but they picked it all up incredibly quickly. All the girls had been successful in other sports so they know what it takes, but they are extremely dedicated. Most of them have been passing a footy now every day since they started.”
Lang recruited former Australian Sevens player Michael Black to coach the side on the field, while he focused on the girl’s strength and conditioning.
“When Cassie met with Tim Walsh he told her she needed three things. She needed to be able to pass the ball both ways, she needed to show willingness in the contact side of the game and she needed to back herself on the field. He said he didn’t mind if she made mistakes, but he wanted to see what she could do with the footy in her hand.”
“From that, we decided that tackling and passing were the two key skills we needed to focus on and to the girls credit, they’ve worked extremely hard on both.”
Three months after that first session, Pride won their first tournament at Crescent Head without having a try scored against them and Staples earned a part time development contract with the Olympic winning Australian side soon after.
Staples earned three caps on the World Series late last year and earlier this week was named in Australia’s squad to play on home soil at this week’s Sydney 7s.
“Around the time of Pride’s first tournament, David Goldman from Victor Sports, who were Pride’s only ever sponsor, invited us out to the Sydney 7s and Cassie stood there and said ‘I want to play in this next year.’ I actually rang her last night and reminded her of that because it’s pretty remarkable,” Lang continued.
“Back then it was probably a bit of a pipe dream but we both believed she could do it. She’s just got incredible athleticism that is suited to the game and this amazing self belief and drive to be successful.”
While Lang said he thought athletes from other sports could also make the transition to Sevens, he added that most people underestimate how much skill work Staples did.
“She trained three times a day for six months straight, so she probably did the work that some girls do in two or three years in six months, it’s no fluke, she’s worked incredibly hard,” Lang said,
“It was a sports science experiment that worked, but when you get an incredibly gifted and motivated athlete, special things can happen.”
While Staples has spent the last six months training full time with the Australian Sevens squad, Lang has continued to train his Pride Sevens squad and believes a number of other players are good enough to follow in Staples’ footsteps.
“We had seven or eight girls play in the University Sevens last year and we had three other girls play in the Australian Development team as well,” he said.
“We’ll also be representing Southern Districts in the Shute Shield 7s competition this year and that is going to create a viable pathway for girls from their very first game. If they are good enough, they can play in the University tournament, then get picked in the Australian development team and then pick up a full time contract.”
Staples and the Australian team begin their Sydney 7s campaign on Friday against Spain at 11:50am, before facing Papua New Guinea and France in their other Pool matches.