She proved to be of Orange Emus’ most influential recruits in this year’s Westfund Ferguson Cup but considering it was her debut season with the greens, halfback Em McDonald is the first to admit she’s still very raw.
So, naturally, the diminutive pivot wasn’t expecting to be plucked from the greens straight into the NSW Country Eagles’ squad.
McDonald, along with Westfund Ferguson Cup player-of-the-year Claire Woolmington, from CSU Bathurst, and premiership-winning Bathurst Bulldogs trio Mel Waterford, Claudia McLaren and Marita Shoulders, have all been included in the Eagles’ initial, 43-strong squad for two clashes against the Sydney Rays.
They’ll be played alongside two National Rugby Championship fixtures, the first being the Rays’ clash with Fiji on September 23, at Concord Oval.
“I don’t even know all the rules yet,” McDonald laughed, admitting she’s somewhat overwhelmed with her selection.
“But I guess living in a neighbourhood full of rugby players like (2013 Blowes Clothing Cup player of the year) Gus Brotherton, Jack and James Grant and my younger brother Sam, I have to have some idea.
“But there’s still more experienced and talented players than me around, I’m young and new to the game so I definitely didn’t expect this kind of opportunity so early.
“Thanks to Emus and people like Amanda Ferguson and Shane Udy I’m always learning and I’m loving the game. I was always told as a kid that someone’s always watching, so you have to play your best every game.”
The squad includes 2017 NSW Country Rugby Union player of the Britney Duff, from Newcastle, along with Waratahs Super W champions Katrina Barker, Alafou Fatu, Nancy Vaiaku, Inge Visser and Matalena Wilson.
The Rays squad is equally exciting, with Josephine Falesita, Chloe Leaupepe, Fiona Jones, Ash Hewson, Iliseva Batibasaga, Tasmin Sheppard, Natalie Maclaren, Ana-lise Sio and Alex Sulusi all lining up together for the first time since the Waratahs’ win.
“There’s some big names and some really talented players from around the Central West too,” McDonald said.
“I’m very excited to give it a red-hot crack and I’m very grateful too, but I’m nervous as well.
“To be honest I’ve already achieved my goal of being recognised outside the local competition so anything now really is a bonus, I just want to give it my best and show them what I’ve got.”
Incredibly, the two games will actually be McDonald’s first foray in the 15-a-side form of the game too, with the Westfund Ferguson Cup a 10-a-side competition – talk about a baptism of fire.
“I don’t really know what to expect because of that, but it’s another opportunity to learn so I’ll try and make the most of the experience,” she said.
The 43-strong group heads to Eastern Suburbs’ base at Woollahra for a selection camp on Sunday, in which they’ll name the final squad for the two games.