St George Illawarra Dragons make play for Australian rugby sevens star

Streaking away: Emma Tonegato is hoping to cap a successful season with World Cup glory. Picture: AAP Image/Dave Hunt.
Streaking away: Emma Tonegato is hoping to cap a successful season with World Cup glory. Picture: AAP Image/Dave Hunt.

Rugby sevens star Emma Tonegato has revealed she was approached by the St George Illawarra Dragons in a bid to sign her up for the NRL Women’s competition.

The Dragons are one of four clubs set to take part in the inaugural season of the competition and the club has made a number of high-profile signings, including Kezie Apps and multi-sport star Honey Hireme.  

Tonegato, however, was one they could not lure home, with the former Jillaroo turning down St George Illawarra’s offer. 

“The Dragons did approach me,” Tonegato said. “But what we get in rugby doesn’t compare to what they have in league.

“Rugby’s where all my opportunity’s have come from, it’s full-time, year-round competition and I can’t give that up. I started playing league and might be keen to head back there later on if the game grows.

“At the moment, rugby’s a fully international game, we get to go to the Olympics, travel to six countries every year, it’s full-time, I receive funding to study part-time. I can’t really ask for much more in terms of professionalism at the moment in rugby.”

Having overcome a shoulder injury, the 23-year-old is currently deep in preparations for next weekend’s Rugby Sevens World Cup in San Francisco. 

The Australians have experienced a rollercoaster six months, with the highs of a 31-0 demolition of New Zealand in the final of the Sydney Sevens followed by the devastation of an extra time defeat to their Trans Tasman rivals in the gold medal match at the Commonwealth Games. 

Australia held on to claim the overall World Series crown, but it was New Zealand who finished the circuit as the form team, winning the final three events, and Tonegato said the pressure will be on New Zealand to extend that winning run.

“I don’t really feel any pressure, on me or the team. We’re just excited to go and have fun. New Zealand won the last four tournaments, including the Commonwealth Games, so there’s more pressure on them.” 

While sevens tournaments are traditionally played over two days with pool matches followed by finals, the World Cup will follow a unique elimination format. 

The equation is simple for the 16 women’s teams taking to AT&T Park, win and move on, lose and your tournament’s over. For Australia, a first up match with Papua New Guinea will likely be followed by a quarter-final against Fiji and eventually, if all goes to plan, a final against New Zealand.

The two sides have played four times since the final in Sydney, with New Zealand winning all four. Tonegato said the team is motivated to ensure it doesn’t happen again in San Francisco. 

“They’ve just been a little bit more hungry, we look a bit hesitant, but we’ve implemented some new things and after losing the last couple of times, everyone’s got that hunger back. We’re all really excited, there’s a good vibe around the team at the moment and we’re excited to get out and play.”