An Olympic gold medal, a first HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series title and the accolade of World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year in association with HSBC will all ensure that 2016 is a year that Charlotte Caslick will never forget.
It was the third year in a row that the Australian playmaker had been nominated for the prestigious award, having missed out to her team-mate and fellow Queenslander Emilee Cherry in 2014 and New Zealand’s Portia Woodman in 2015.
For Caslick, though, the award was a collective one at the end of a season where Australia lost only three matches across five rounds of the series and then claimed the first ever rugby sevens Olympic gold medal at Rio 2016.
“I was really excited to hear that I’d won the award, I guess it kind of topped off a great year,” Caslick told World Rugby before heading to Dubai. “We had a good season and it was also good recognition for the rest of the girls because we play a style of rugby where you need each other out there.
“The group of girls we have, honestly we are like a big group of best friends – they’re like a family. It sounds really clichéd but we really are. A lot of us have moved from out of state, some as young as 17 or 18, so we had no choice but to become each other’s second family and stick up for each other.
“We definitely have a lot of trust in each other as a result.”
A love affair with rugby
Caslick, like many of Australia’s golden girls, came to sevens from other sports, excited by the opportunity to join a new centralised programme in Narrabeen and set out on a long-term pathway they hoped would lead to series and Olympic success.
The transition from touch football to sevens wasn’t always easy for Caslick in the beginning, but five years on she is certainly smitten by the sport and the opportunities it has given her and her team-mates.
“When I first started it was very daunting and all of that, but I’m glad that I stuck at it and kept with it because I love it so much now and it’s given me so many opportunities, not only at the Olympics, but travelling the world and becoming a full-time professional athlete.
“I guess when I started playing that sort of success was my goal and we achieved everything really fast. When we set out we definitely weren’t expecting to win so quickly, it was always the goal but I never expected it all to happen in one year!”
Such success has already helped make stars of Caslick and her team-mates, with young girls across Australia inspired to want to get involved in rugby now and many sporting the plaited pigtails and ribbons which have become her trademark.
“It’s been amazing and so much fun being able to pass on stories about our experiences,” admitted Caslick, a try-scorer in the gold medal match against New Zealand in Rio. "We’ve definitely noticed an increase in the amount of girls playing rugby as well. They are trying out now and there’s almost too many to fit into teams so it’s pretty amazing.
A new role model
“I guess it’s a little bit surreal (that girls now look up to me). Five years ago that was probably like me trying to be like my sporting heroes. I had so many idols growing up, so it’s a bit surreal to be someone else’s now.
“I just hope that I can keep playing well and keep inspiring people to get involved because I honestly do love it (rugby) so much.”
The opening round of the 2016-17 series will be Caslick’s 17th tournament, a total only seven players in Dubai this week can better – three of them team-mates in Cherry and co-captains Shannon Parry and Sharni Williams.
It’s easy to forget, therefore, that Caslick only turned 21 in March and is intending to stick around for a long time yet, excited by the challenge of the RWC Sevens in San Francisco and Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2018 and the next Olympic Games in 2020 for starters.
No different to any Australian sporting team, they are hungry for even more success, starting in Dubai where they will face USA, South Africa and Russia, the side they beat to win the title 12 months ago.
“We’re definitely going into next season hoping to win back-to-back world series,” admitted Caslick, who has scored 38 tries in her 16 tournaments since making her debut in Amsterdam in the inaugural series in 2012-13.
The best is yet to come
“The New Zealand girls have done it before so we want to prove that we can do it as well. Walshy (head coach Tim Walsh) has been talking to us a lot about staying on top of everything and showing that we’ve got a lot of character by being able to back up what we’ve done this year.
“It does put a little bit of pressure on us. Everyone will be chasing us just like when New Zealand were winning all the series. They were the benchmark and we were always trying to chase them.
“For sure people will be out there trying to beat us, but that will just make us better (as individuals) and hopefully make our game better as well.”
Does that mean we haven’t yet seen the true potential of this Australian team?
“I’d like to think not, because we’ve still got so many young players that have only been playing for a really short period of time. I’d like to think that we will get better as we get older and more experienced and play more rugby together as a team.”
On that basis, Australia could truly have a golden generation in their midst.