Wallaroos begin World Cup journey as Tregonning looks to build 'safe' culture

Wallaroos come together for the first time since March 2021 Rugby Australia

As the Wallaroos prepare for one of their biggest years yet, coach Jay Tregonning is determined to build a "safe" culture for his players as he meets them face to face for the first time since his appointment in October.

The 40 player squad arrived on the Gold Coast on Saturday for their first training camp since March 2021, as they begin preparations for the inaugural Pacific Four competition and the World Cup in New Zealand, with Tregonning already impressed by the attitude and charisma amongst his players.

"It's been a long time coming. There was a lot of sacrifices from all the players that came into camp, a lot of them locked themselves down and they missed the festive season celebrations to make sure that they were in camp and fit and healthy," Tregonning said.

"The energy that they came in with, even before we got out to our first field session on day one, just the energy in the room, the smiles on their faces, the happiness to be back together. Meeting some of the new players that haven't been in the squad before as well for some of the senior players.

"Everything has been really positive and the energy, the attitude displayed within all the training sessions has been outstanding."

Tregonning's appointment follows the controversial resignation of former head coach Dwayne Nestor after he was heard using "unacceptable language" in an audio recording of a Super W clash in July. Taking on the role just a year out from the World Cup, the new coach is now working quickly to build a culture that allows players to be themselves, both on and off the field.

"We had a good chat about culture the other night and for me the main thing is that the girls feel part of the Wallaroos and feel part of the team and the main part of that is safety and the ability to be able to have open and honest conversations, be able put themselves out there and be able to try things on the field and really be in a situation where they're free to express themselves, to me that's a massive part of it.

"What we want to see throughout 2022 is the players being not only creative on the field and courageous on the field, but courageous off it as well. If they are working together, and we mentioned to the players that they need to ensure that we're doing the right thing by them as well so feeling safe to be able to have those hard conversations, but also feeling safe to be courageous on the field."

His comments come just a month after Black Ferns hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate claimed she suffered a mental breakdown after alleged critical comments from head coach Glenn Moore. When asked, Tregonning said the Black Ferns situation had had no impact on his process, but that he was aware of the situation.

"No look, that definitely didn't have any impact on the way that I presented it to the players the other night," Tregonning said.

"To me the main foundations of culture for me are safety, trust and belonging and that's been the way that I try to create teams, may it be within the school environment, within staff teams and as well as within players.

"It's something that, from a cultural point of view, that I've had a real interest in since probably 2010 in regards to how culture can impact the performance of a team both on and off the field, but obviously ultimately on it.

"So that didn't have any impact at all. We're obviously of aware of the situation, but we want to be in a situation that's reflective of what I truly believe in as well."

Hitting the ground running, the players have been put through their paces, undergoing a triple session on Sunday, while Tregonning has made it clear to players this year's Super W season will play a major role in selection decisions throughout the year.

"I've been up front with the players since I was appointed in October, that Super W has a major factor in our performance throughout 2022. We want a really competitive Super W program, the players to be fit and firing and building combinations throughout Super W and that's just going to make the Wallaroos stronger in 2022 as well.

"From a Super W point of view, there will be selection decisions for us to make throughout that time as well. So we want to reward this current PONI [Player of National Interest] group with a bit of the training now and then understanding the standards that are required. So we're really looking forward to a strong competitive Super W throughout the year."

In a blow to the Wallaroos preparations, young wing Maya Stewart will be racing the clock to be available for the World Cup after she ruptured her ACL late last year. Already ruled out for the Super W season and unlikely to be available for the Pacific Four, Tregonning said he'd be giving Stewart every chance to be available for New Zealand in September.

"We've given her the opportunity to prove her fitness before the World Cup, and obviously there's time constraints around that. But Maya's got that goal and we're happy to support her in that goal as well, and doing everything we can to support her to be fit, prove her fitness and put her name up for selection for the World Cup.

"She's actually in camp with us as well and gaining the knowledge there. We've got a few players here that are on a rehab list, but it's important that they're here and getting a bit of the technical knowledge that we're starting to implement for 2022."