It’s a measure of how quick Australia’s newest golden girls learned their ropes – rugby sevens star Emilee Cherry admits she cried from a push in the first game she played.
It was less than four years ago, and she’d just learned how to tackle.
The next season she was crowned the world player of the year.
Now Cherry is back showing the same form as Australia are poised to claim a maiden world series title – a first in either men’s or women’s sevens – this weekend in France.
The skilful 23-year-old from Queensland rugby league heartland of Roma leads the try-scoring (18) and points-scoring (114) standings, just as she did in 2013-14 before a knee injury laid her low in 2015.
Cherry’s accelerated development isn’t unique in a 21-strong squad where only two players – team leaders Sharni Williams and Shannon Parry – were in the program before the Australian Rugby Union started its talent ID program once the sport gained Olympic inclusion.
Like most of her current teammates, she was scouted from touch football where she represented Australia in 2010 and 2011.
The then teenager had never played any sort of contact sport before giving sevens a crack.
“My first game I actually cried,” she told AAP. “Someone pushed me in the back after I scored and I just wasn’t ready for it.”
Although fellow-Roma product Darren Lockyer is her sporting hero, Cherry had to learn how to tackle in her first national sevens camp in mid-2012, as well as the `foreign’ rules of rugby.
“The whole family are leaguies so I had no idea about union,” Cherry said from France.
“My first tournament for Australia was two-and-a-half months after that in Dubai which was pretty daunting.
“Just standing in front of a crowd of about 20,000 and not having any real idea about the game, so it was quite a quick transition.”
Australia only need to finish sixth or better – a virtual certainty considering the strength of the experienced squad Tim Walsh has selected – in Clermont this weekend to claim the world series.
But Walsh and Cherry say the Pearls, favourites for gold at Rio, are determined to finish with a flourish and continue their Olympic momentum.
The coach has mixed and matched his squad this season but has kept the influential Cherry in throughout – hailing her as a “very important cog”.
“We have some world class players and an array of game breakers and defenders but Emilee offers so many things on and off the field,” Walsh said.