The HSBC SVNS 2024 season was earmarked to be monumental for rugby sevens. New branding, new structure and an Olympic Games. So far, it has given us two epic tournaments in Dubai and Cape Town – the future, it seems, is bright as the sevens circus heads to Perth.
Australia and New Zealand have dominated the women’s game since its inception, winning three and seven world series titles respectively. As the Dubai desert heated up, the two juggernauts were on a familiar collision course to the final.
The two countries boast the biggest names in sevens. Players like Charlotte Caslick and Portia Woodman-Wickliffe have been trailblazers in the women’s game – it’s impossible to measure the impact they’ve had on the sport.
But even these legends are starting to make way for a new generation of rugby sevens stars.
As the final whistle blew in Dubai with the scoreboard reading 26-19 to Australia, the chorus of approval was for 21st-century on-pitch rivals Teagan Levi and Jorja Miller.
As with every meeting between these two rugby powers, that final was a blockbuster, with the scoreboard swinging back and forth until a try sealed it for Australia at the death.
Levi, 20, and Miller, 19, were the undisputed stars of the showpiece match for their respective teams. Watching on, it looked like the two rising talents were fast becoming the biggest names, the biggest rivals, in the sport.
Their contributions to the scoreboard were spectacular. Miller, who turns 20 on 8 February, scored all three of the Black Ferns Sevens’ tries while Australia’s Levi bagged two for the eventual champions, and kicked two conversions.
But their points tallies tell only part of the story. Their work around the park – that’s really exciting the rugby world.
They are key playmakers in their teams with an understanding of the game far beyond their years. They both possess electric footwork, silky skills and a hard edge to deal with the strains of elite-level sport.
Both seem to have endless time on the ball – a hallmark of top players – and are always scanning for opportunities in attack and defence.
This was best demonstrated when Levi made a pivotal decision to counter-ruck just before half-time in the Dubai final, when New Zealand were leading 12-7 and pursuing another score. She blasted through the ruck and forced a knock-on – and went on to score from the next play. That was just one highlight from her Player of the Final performance.
Miller, meanwhile, wasn’t just busy scoring tries. Her work rate in the final was lung-busting. She contributed a key pass or a crucial tackle to every positive play by the Black Ferns Sevens.
There is so much to get excited about with these two rising sevens stars – and not just by extrapolating a trajectory based on what they’ve achieved so far in their relatively short careers.
Miller debuted at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 in Cape Town. She was named Rookie of the Year after winning that year’s series with the Black Ferns Sevens and made it into four dream teams.
Levi’s international bow came at the 2021 Emirates Dubai 7s, and she has already won a series, a Commonwealth Games and a RWC Sevens. She and older sister Maddison are in high demand at home – Rugby Australia had to fend off interest from NRLW and AFLW to secure their services through to 2026.
But the fact is that Levi and Miller’s successful starts haven’t been without setbacks. This is why I believe both women are in it for the long run. A knee injury ruled Miller out of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, delaying her international debut, and Levi has fought from the fringes to become a consistent starter for Australia.
The final of the SVNS 2024 opener in Dubai was the first chance we had to glimpse where these players could take the sport. They hold the keys to the ongoing power struggle between Australia and New Zealand.
And we could see them battle it out for another decade if they choose to stay in sevens.
Looking ahead, it is clear that the Olympics in Paris is a major driving force for both players, leading them to sign long-term deals with their sevens programmes. Miller’s deal, through to 2027, is the longest contract ever signed by a female player in New Zealand.
These contracts could have an even bigger impact on the game. Levi and Miller have already paid back the trust their unions have placed in them. Perhaps this will trigger more countries to invest in their players over longer periods to help grow the sport, even as these two origin stars inevitably inspire the next generation to play and pursue careers in sevens.
Australia and New Zealand’s approach to women’s sevens is set to keep them at the top of the pyramid, while Levi and Miller will continue in the footsteps of the incredible women who blazed the path before them – and will make new tracks of their own.
Their highlight reels already look like cheat codes. I can only imagine what they’ll look like in 10 years' time.
This is going to be a monumental season for sevens and two of the key characters will no doubt be Jorja Miller and Teagan Levi. Both are very safe pairs of hands.
By Luke Treharne