Arabella McKenzie: Ready to Light up the World Cup

Tue, Sep 27, 2022, 9:31 PM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
Wallaroos fullback Lori Cramer recounts how the First Nations Yugambeh anthem came to fruition.

It'll be a long way from home when Wallaroo Arabella McKenzie runs out as part of the Rugby World Cup 2021 opener against the Black Ferns.

A near sell-out crowd of 50,000 is expected at Eden Park on October 8 for the opening day of the tournament, accompanied by a performance from pop superstar Rita Ora.

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It's a stark difference from where McKenzie grew up in Lightning Ridge, located at the NSW and Queensland border, a population that is just under 3,000.

However, it's a stage the 23-year-old was built for, relishing the chance to play in front of what could be a world record crowd for a women's Rugby Union match.

“It’s everything," she told Rugby.com.au

“I’m just a little girl from Lightning Ridge and now I’m playing on the big stage with 31 of my best mates. We’ve all worked so hard for this.

“It’s going to be such a cool experience and I’m so grateful for my friends and family back home in Walgett for everything they’ve done for me.

“Mum and dad were super stoked that all the hard work has paid off. They drove me all around the countryside to various footy games. They’ve always been my biggest supporters so they are super excited for me and can’t wait to get over there and watch me play.”

She started the season in the south island of New Zealand, recruited by Matatū along with fellow Wallaroo Michaela Leonard as part of the inaugural Super Rugby Aupiki.

The Waratah started on the bench before being thrust into the starting side the following week in a 21-10 defeat to the Blues.

The chance to learn alongside retiring Black Ferns great Kendra Cocksedge has helped take her game to another level and cement her spot as the premier flyhalf in the country.

“I learnt so much about the game of Rugby and how the Kiwis played,” McKenzie explained back in April.

“The way they apply pressure on each other defensively, I definitely think I have a lot more time on my hands than before I left.

“The physicality as well is a big difference. Those Kiwis have been playing Rugby since they were born and a lot of our girls have only picked up the game in the past couple of years so there’s a bit of a gap but it’s closing pretty quickly.”

The Wallaroos and Black Ferns have faced off four times in 2022, with all fixtures, like their previous ones, going to the Kiwis.

However, there are signs of improvement and the gap closing as McKenzie suggests, with their eighth-point defeat in Adelaide the closest yet.

The prospect of a packed-out Eden Park full of passionate New Zealanders doesn't faze the young playmaker either, embracing the underdog status and the chance at history.

“Pac Four we didn’t perform the best we could and coming into Laurie O’Reilly, we upped our training intensity and it started to click and I think it showed in Adelaide,” she believes.

“We showed when we play our expansive style of footy, we’re pretty hard to stop and hopefully we’re taking that confidence into the Kiwis. We’ve got to stay up when we’re against the Black Ferns.

"They’re a world class team and we’ll be looking to put our best foot forward, hopefully, the girls take confidence from the last two games and hopefully we can put on an 80-minute performance.

“We’re all a bunch of battlers who love playing for their country. We love each other and what it stands for.

"We’re unified in our goal to get out of those group stages and just really put in some great performances together."

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