IT’S not to often you get the chance to play any sport alongside one of your siblings, let alone playing side by side them in Australian colours.
But that’s exactly what Jamberoo Superoos stars Kaela and Georgia Thomas did when they steered the Australian open women’s Oztag team to glory at the recent 2018 Tag World Cup in Coffs Harbour.
The pair, who were joined in the squad by fellow Group Seven products Aimee Barnard (Jamberoo), Brooke Smith (Jamberoo) and Lauren Murty (Milton-Ulladulla), were named in the Australian squad following their strong play for the Vipers at the national championships.
“Our preparation was actually pretty good considering the squad was picked a year ago and the team is made up of girls from different areas,” Kaela Thomas said.
“We had monthly training sessions in Cronulla and then a number of weekend runs against a few teams.
“The last two training sessions we had were just against each other and that’s when we really started to gel and look ready to play as a team – I think as the tournament came closer we became a little more serious.”
Their Australian team opened their tournament assault with Pool A wins against Greece (25-nil), Malta (21-nil), Vietnam (14-2), South Korea (25-nil) and Lebanon (13-1).
“I can’t fault the girls during our round games, we won most of them quite convincingly and it wasn’t until we played Lebanon that we had to step it up a gear,” Kaela said.
“The more we all played together, the more combinations we had and the more our play improved.”
After easily finishing on top of their pool, the Thomas sisters’ Australian team played a cross-over against Ireland, winning 16-2, before progressing through the quarter-final (24-nil vs Philippines) and semi-final (Lebanon 11-1).
“Our team had a very high paced style of play during the tournament,” Georgia Thomas said.
“With some very experienced ball players, we were able to use the ball a lot and throw it around to create a lot of opportunities for our faster players out wide.
“We had really strong structure plays to get out of our half and this allowed us to use the ball more to attack.
“We worked on our defence the whole tournament, focusing on being vocal around the ruck and tight in the middle as we knew we had pace to slide out.”
These eight wins pitted Australia against China for the gold medal.
“In the final we came up against China, who we hadn’t played before in the tournament,” Georgia said.
“We knew they were quick and had a good kicking game, so we focused on defence again.
“We started off scoring two run away tries.
“However, we dropped a few balls which put us under pressure in defence, allowing China to score.
“We ended up scoring some solid tries in the second half, which led to the final score of 7-1.
“We didn’t play as well as we had during the tournament, which we were a little bit upset by but that’s the World Cup – we have to give credit to China for putting us under pressure that we really hadn’t been given during the tournament.”
Despite both playing for their country on numerous occasions, Georgia six and Kaela three, this was the first time they had been in the same national team – which made the win even more special.
“Winning the Word Cup was an awesome feeling and to do it with a few other South Coast girls was, that I’ve played with for a long time, made it that bit more special,” Kaela said.
“Oztag is continuing to grow, so it’s becoming more special winning things like this when there is so many more people wanting to play the game.
“I’ve always loved playing Oztag with Geo – we play similar positions, so it’s always fun to be out there with her.
“We have a few sister trick shots we sometimes like to throw in that our dad [Ross] has taught us.
“It was something very special to be able to represent our country with her and I hope to be able to do it again.
“This tournament was definitely the biggest carnival I’ve been involved in with Oztag and I’ve heard the proposal for the next World Cup is in Ireland in three years, which would be amazing to be a part of."
Making the occasion even more special for the Thomas family was the fact father Ross was also in Coffs Harbour representing the Australian men’s 50s side – who went down 4-2 to Ireland in the final.
The open women’s team wasn’t the only Australian team to win their World Cup division, with the open mixed, featuring Shellharbour’s Matt Carroll and Kiama pair Alana Glasson and Kristi Pan, defeating Greece 11-2 in the final, while the men's 35s team, containing Albion Park-Oak Flats pair Gary Breakspear and Dean Gray, won their decider 6-nil against Lebanon.
Not to be outdone, the Australian men’s under 21s side, featuring Shellharbour’s Kade Sampson, Kiama’s Hamish McLaurin, Stinrgays’ Jayden Harris, Warilla-Lake South’s Blair Grant and Albion Park-Oak Flats’ Jack Hooper, edged out American Samoa in their final 12-4.
Unfortunately, the open men’s Australian team, featuring Kiama's Tom Atkins and Brad Scott and Shellharbour’s Jayme Mcelhone couldn’t replicate the feats of their national counterparts, finishing with the bronze medal.