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Why Sharni Williams deserves a place in World and Australian Rugby Halls of Fame

Australia’s unstoppable sevens women have rounded off what is arguably their greatest year ever by adding a World Cup title to their Commonwealth Games and world series gold in 2022.

And as we reflect on another milestone moment for the Pearls, there’s one name that continues to stand out.

It’s not the game-breaking Levi sisters, Maddi and Teagan.

Nor is it Faith Nathan with her record-breaking try haul in South Africa, including a five-for against Madagascar, nor Demi Hayes, Lily Dick, Tia Hinds, Sariah Paki or Bienne Terita.

Charlotte Caslick and Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea starred in attack all year, and Dom Du Toit and Maddi Ashby are turning into all-round superstars – but they’re still not the name I’m chasing.

There’s one player that ties it all together. And she always has – Australia’s player of the final – Sharni Williams.

Two clutch conversions, some strong carries and her rock-solid defence helped seal the 24-22 decider against New Zealand in Cape Town but it’s nothing out of the ordinary for Batlow’s finest.

Player of the Final @sharni2388 went to another level at the #RWC7s ????#TripleCrown #Aussie7s #WorldRugby7s pic.twitter.com/AVkIFJTlC0

— AU 7s (@Aussie7s) September 12, 2022

In fact, these trademarks have anchored Australia’s success since Williams joined the party in 2011.

Let’s pause for a quick snapshot of Sharni’s career so far: Olympic Gold, Commonwealth Gold, RWC7s World Champion, and 3 x World Series winner.

On the World Series circuit alone, she’s amassed 218 games (2nd Aus, 5th overall) with an individual points haul of 559 (5th Aus, 14th overall).

Both figures are incredible – even with the likes of Caslick, Emma Tonegato, Emilee Cherry and Ellia Green running rampant, Sharni still managed to bag 59 tries (6th Aus, 30th overall) and, perhaps more importantly, 132 conversions (2nd Aus, 8th overall) via drop kick.

Yet the measure of a champion player isn’t on the highlight reel.

It’s the nitty gritty. The tough stuff. Making your 1v1 tackles and hitting the ball up to create space for your finishers.

And surprise surprise, our most recent figures have Sharni right up top with 266 tackles (2nd Aus, 12th overall) and 338 carries (3rd Aus, 16th Overall) to go with 54 clean breaks (6th Aus, 28th Overall).

Bear in mind, these stats don’t include Oceania/friendly sevens tournaments, nor does it include her two Olympic and two Commonwealth campaigns.

And sadly Wallaroo stats are difficult to come by so we can’t dive too deeply into Sharni’s individual contributions in the 15-a-side game.

But given she debuted in 2008 and is off to a fourth World Cup next month after playing in 2010 (3 tries), 2014 and captaining Australia’s 2017 RWC campaign, you can imagine there’s more than a handful of caps to her name as a hard-running centre.

I’d estimate Sharni’s represented her country close to 300 times across all tournaments and formats, many as a captain/co-captain.

Those who demonstrate such commitment and durability (plus unprecedented success) at the top level deserve to be recognised among rugby’s highest achievers both domestically and abroad.

21-cap half-back and RWC7s winning captain Cheryl McAfee is Australia’s only female player in the World Rugby Hall of Fame and was inducted last year.

The Australian Sports Hall of Fame lists 20 rugby union players and 5 coach/admin figures, all of whom are men.

And to the best of my knowledge, Australia’s Hall of Fame focuses solely on the Wallabies.

Now it’s no secret Rugby Australia has come under scrutiny for its handling of the women’s game.

Issues such as pay parity, resourcing, safety/wellbeing, and player retention at the top level have all been the source of robust debate both here on The Roar and across traditional media.

Clearly, there’s a long road ahead for Rugby Australia and I’d personally love to see Moore Park set a clear timeline for women’s professionalisation.

But they could do far worse than to make history by inducting Sharni Williams into a rebranded Australian Rugby Hall of Fame encompassing Wallabies, Wallaroos and Sevens, and nominating her for the Australian Sports Hall of Fame.

At 34, Williams is already a legend.

She’s continued to evolved and adapt in both formats and credits her teammates for keeping her young.

But she won’t be playing forever and as another milestone looms, the least Rugby Australia could to is make her legend status official.

 

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