Wallaroos legend Iliseva Batibasaga has confirmed her International retirement, bringing an end to a near-two decade career in the gold jersey.
Batibasaga made her Wallaroos debut at the 2006 World Cup in Canada against South Africa as Wallaroo #87, becoming an essential figure within Women's Rugby as she represented Australia on 27 occasions and at three World Cups.
Whilst Batibasaga made her career largely in the sky blue, her Rugby journey began at the Norths Eagles in Brisbane, eventually representing Queensland at the National Championships before getting the Wallaroo call-up.
The 37-year-old had always targeted the 2021 World Cup to step down, guiding the Wallaroos to the quarter-finals with an inspirational performance against Wales.
“I originally planned to step down in 2021 – after the World Cup – but the pandemic foiled those timelines,” she explained.
“The World Cup was moved to 2022, and I had a choice to make: should I push for another year, or retire now? With the help of family, coaches, friends, a sports psychologist and some time away from rugby, I decided to give my all for one last year.”
“I was only 21 years old when I first sang the national anthem as a Wallaroo – I think I made it through two words before I started crying
“Being able to relive my experiences at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand this year, and seeing the various stages of my career reflected in my teammates and their journeys has been so special.”
Batibasaga leaves a lasting legacy behind in a youthful Wallaroos team, stepping up as a key leader since they have returned to action over the past 12 months.
This includes mentoring fellow Waratahs teammate Layne Morgan, knowing she is leaving the jersey in a great place.
"To have a legacy seems so stately...over the years, I’ve learnt through hard work comes much reward, refining my craft and putting in the extras when no one is watching; a mere stitch in the Wallaroos jersey," she explained.
"The integrity of the Wallaroos jersey lies within its players, the task falls upon us to challenge each other to become better players and all-round good people. It’s often been said that a jersey is never owned, only borrowed until it’s time to pass it on.
"I tasked myself the responsibility of sharing my knowledge of game, skills and experience, and establishing a healthy competitive culture with my team mates, specifically halfbacks so they’re prepared to take responsibility of the jersey when my time is up.
"In the change rooms, after our game against England at the World Cup I remember saying to Layne, “You make it easier to step away.” I’m extremely proud of her and the player she’s becoming; the jersey is in safe hands."
In classic Batibasaga fashion, the departure from Rugby was never going to be sudden, remarking "I don’t think I can never not be involved in rugby."
She is set to run out for the NSW Waratahs in next year's Super W whilst continuing her work as an Educational Leader at a Camperdown Sunshine Kids Childcare Centre in the Inner West suburbs of Sydney.
RA CEO Andy Marinos led the tributes, praising her contribution to the game.
“Iliseva has created an inimitable legacy for future generations of players – both on and off the field," Marinos reiterated
“Her kindness, gentle spirit and true passion for the game have culminated in an impressive career – she has played an important role in leaving the Wallaroos jersey better off than when she started. Her departure will be felt keenly by current Wallaroos players, who have looked to Ili as a leader, mentor and friend for many years.
“We here at Rugby Australia congratulate Ili. We wish her all the best in her future endeavours, and hope for her continued involvement within rugby for years to come.”
“People see ‘professional Rugby players’ as people who are paid a full-time wage to play the game we all love,” added Wallaroos coach Jay Tregonning.
“To me, a ‘professional’ is someone who leaves no stone unturned in their search to improve their on-field and off-field skills, who goes about their work with integrity, humility, and calmness, making the people around them better in the process.
“Ili epitomises professionalism – she was an outstanding leader for the team throughout 2022 and has redefined what it means to be a Wallaroo. Although she will be greatly missed, Ili has set the standard for continual improvement and future success – our up-and-coming players owe her a great debt."