Miller time as Wallaroos flyer springs into action

Sat, Jul 6, 2024, 1:31 AM
JP
by Jon Geddes - Wallaroos Match Day Program

Desiree Miller is the Wallaroos winger with a genuine spring in her step.

The 22-year-old’s background in gymnastics is proving a real boost as she progresses in leaps and bounds since taking up rugby only three years ago.

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Miller’s talent was on display throughout the recent NSW Waratahs’ undefeated Super W season -  and culminated in her crossing for three tries in her side’s 50-14 grand final win against Fijian Drua.   

To describe Miller as a versatile sportsperson growing up is a massive understatement.

“I was a swimmer, a diver, I played soccer and gymnastics, a bit of basketball and netball for a while, athletics and hockey,” she revealed while in camp with the Wallaroos’ ahead of Saturday’s Test against Fiji. 

“I loved it and anything I could play I would. It helps coming into rugby so late I had so many skills from other sports that helped me transfer across.”

But it is her gymnastics that has proved so beneficial as she swapped the mat for combat.

“I think the power and the foundational strength has helped so much, as well as the coordination and flexibility,” Miller said.

And memories of former sporting successes came back for Miller this week while the Wallaroos prepared to take on the Fijians.   

“Funnily enough, I did a few competitions here at the AIS when I was part of the State team,” she said. “There was a bit of nostalgia I guess walking through the grounds and walking past the gymnastics centre.”

NSW Waratahs women’s coach Mike Ruthven has no doubt Miller’s gymnastics have helped Miller make the seamless switch to rugby.

“She is a really powerful athletic girl,” Ruthven said. “And I definitely think her gymnastics background has given her a little edge athletically.

“She is so strong and powerful through her legs and really well balanced when she runs.” He said her time playing soccer had also helped with her hand-eye co-ordination.

“Dessie kicks the ball quite well and while she hasn’t had an opportunity she is quite a good goalkicker and works hard around that,” he said.

But it was almost by chance that Australian rugby secured the services of one of their rising stars.

“I was just playing soccer at the time and I loved it but had been playing for 16 years of my life and I think I was ready for a change,” Miller said.

“My brother Connor, who was living at home at the time, was kicking the footy across at the park. I said could I try and kick the rugby league ball he had at the time.

“I started kicking off the tee and slotting them from really far out and I thought ‘this is awesome, I should give rugby a try’.”

After graduating from MLC Burwood in 2019, Miller played rugby at Eastern Suburbs and league with Leichhardt Wanderers in 2021 and 2022.

“I loved it so much and wanted to play as much footy as I could,” she said.

“Then the opportunity arose for me at the end of 2022 to be in the training squad with the Waratahs. It just took off from there and was awesome.”

She not only made her debut for the  Waratahs in 2023, but also played the first of her five Tests so far against England in the Pacific Four series.

Then came Miller’s hat-trick stunning hat-trick in the Super W decider.          

“Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” she said.

But Desiree also suffered some anxious moments in that GF.   

“It was a little upsetting to get a yellow card in the final, I thought I had cost us the game. But  the girls did amazing to hold them out,” she said. “I’m just glad I could do my part and get some points on the board to secure that win.”

The success she has enjoyed with the Waratahs this season has made Miller a more confident player heading into the upcoming Tests.  

“I still feel like I am learning the game and am new to the game, but that’s what I love about it,” she said. “I love how every session is different, every game is different and it just keeps you on your toes.”

Ruthven said Desiree played a crucial role in the Waratahs’ fantastic 2024 campaign.

“The thing that impressed me most with ‘Dessie’ was just how powerful she is through contact and her capacity to get out of contact,” he said.

And he witnessed her getting better as the season progressed.

“I think her big improvements are around her game knowledge,” Ruthven said. “She is incredibly diligent and works really hard on her review and preview process.”

Ruthven said that Desiree will go to another level in the Test environment.

“She is such a good student of the game and thrives in and around high performance,” he said. 

“And these opportunities at the next level will only encourage her to invest more time and effort in some of the nuances of the game,” he said.

While the Wallaroos have faced some challenging times recently, that hasn’t dampened  Miller’s enthusiasm, nor her belief in the team.   

“Despite the results I think we are all pretty positive and know there is a bigger picture,” she said.

“We not only want to be a top four team in the world and look towards the World Cup, we also want to inspire the next generation, everyone watching at home and everyone coming to our games.

“We are a good group and I think we have a good thing going for us – I guess just building and being patient and knowing that it will come with time.

“We are really excited and Fiji is always a challenge and they have such a unique style of playing so it is always fun.”

And if she scores a try, could Desiree channel the old gymnast in her and do backflip for her post-scoring celebration?         

“My mum keeps pressing me for that,” she said. “To be honest a backflip would be cool, but I just don’t want to kick anyone - that’s what goes through my head.

“But maybe against Fiji … we’ll see.”        

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