Fri, Mar 22, 2024, 8:22 AM
Nathan Williamson

All Wallaroos star Arabella McKenzie wanted to do was play as much Rugby as possible. However, the young playmaker found that this comes at a cost

McKenzie has chased the game across the world, heading straight from the 2021 Rugby World Cup (played in 2022) to the UK to play for Harlequins.

The playmaker established herself as a star in Premier 15s/Premiership Women's Rugby before returning for an expanded Wallaroos calendar that included the inaugural WXV.

However, hopping between the two winters ultimately came at a cost as McKenzie wore the brunt of the non-stop schedule.

She would depart Harlequins in December for ‘personal reasons’, explaining to how it affected her ‘love’ for the game.

“I’ll just put it down to being really homesick,” she said on her sudden return to Australia.

“I hadn’t really had any time off since pre-World Cup 2022 or when COVID shut everything down. We’ve been go-go-go especially for myself so I think it’s really important to notice you’re not at your best and not feeling 100%.

“Being overseas away from my support network; my family and friends was really tough and I just wasn’t enjoying my Rugby probably since WXV.

“I didn’t love it as much so coming home and having that month or so off has really found that love again and I bounce into Waratahs every day and I look forward to putting on the training shirt.”

McKenzie concedes mental health has always been a struggle and the isolating nature of playing overseas exacerbated this.

The 25-year-old grew up in the small country town of Lightening Ridge, finding herself thousands away from her home as she explored her Rugby dream.

“I debuted really young for the Wallaroos and I’ve been in the Waratahs system since I was 18, so fresh out of school and I hadn’t really had the time off," McKenzie said.

“Coming from the country, there’s all that stigma around mental health as well so I didn’t really know the signs but it was something I struggled with a bit moving away from home, living in a big city and not being around your family and support network.

“…When I was younger, you put all your eggs in one basket. I just focused on Rugby, Rugby, Rugby, I didn’t really have an outlet. Rugby was my outlet and when I wasn’t enjoying that, I was stuck on what to do and what I was passionate about.

“I think you’ve got to notice when you’re not feeling great and not be afraid to speak out and reach out for help. There’s certain people that I talk to and therapy which I’ve found really beneficial for myself.”

It made her appreciate that at the end of the day, there’s no place like home and pulling on the sky blue jersey.

“My time away was unreal and I learnt heaps overseas by nothing beats pulling on the sky blue jersey and being back at home,” she remarked.

With a fresh generation of Waratahs stars coming through, McKenzie looks to share her wisdom as opportunities continue to grow domestically and internationally.

“You’re not just Arabella the Rugby player, you’re Arabella the person so don’t put all your eggs into one basket," she believes.

“It’s really helped me and something I wish someone told me a little bit earlier so I’m just trying to have those conversations with different girls to just focus on not just Rugby and it’ll your Rugby grow and shine.”

At the top of the list is 16-year-old playmaker Waiaria Ellis, who became the joint youngest player to feature for the Waratahs.

It took one carry for Ellis to shine against the Brumbies, stepping off the left to beat three defenders before offloading to McKenzie.

“She’s a special player. She’s probably a one-in-a-generation player and to have her at Tahs is really special, hopefully, we can keep her in Rugby," she added.

“I’m just trying to take a little bit of pressure off her and just letting her play footy which she’s so naturally gifted at and not have her be the lineout caller or call the plays.

“She’s really good at eyes footy so you don’t have to cue her up on too much but she’s just really eager to learn.

“She’s just really eager to learn as well which I love. We’ve got such a good relationship and I scant wait to see what the future holds for her.”