A rising self-belief was the catalyst behind the Melbourne Rebels clinching their maiden Super W victory, following a stirring come-from-behind win over RugbyWA in Perth on Sunday.
It was a triumph that spoke of character and resilience, in a game filled with more ups and downs than a Moomba rollercoaster.
“WA certainly got off to a cracking start scoring twice in quick succession, but credit to us we stayed composed and started to play ourselves back into the game,” said Co-Captain Mel Kawa.
“We experienced a close game in the defeat against the Brumbies in round 2, so it’s not like we haven’t been in tense moments before.
“This time though, we trusted our ability to hold onto the ball for repeat phases and our fitness to work out a way to get across the line."
Kawa was forced to watch the game’s final minutes on the sidelines due to injury – something which only heightened the stress of the moment for the Rebels Co-Captain.
“I was quietly confident - even though I was cheering very loudly!“It was stressful watching from the bench, but the energy was big right up until the eightieth minute and beyond.
“I was just so proud watching the girls get over the line.”
Fellow co-captain, Meretiana Robinson, said the triumph was a dream come true and something that still didn’t feel real.
“When the final whistle was blown, I was in complete disbelief – it’s actually over, the moment of wait, is this really it?
“I was absolutely over the moon and quite speechless.“I’ve been involved since Super W started; to finally get the win, I can’t explain it – it’s been a long road."
Despite the long road, it’s been a swift and impressive turnaround for Melbourne this year.
Season 2020 produced not only the side’s breakthrough Super W win, but also the Rebels highest number of points scored in a season (56).
There were noteworthy defensive improvements too, with the emerging club holding half of their opponents to under 30 points a game – something never achieved in the club’s three-year existence.
Robinson believes the playing group could sense something was different even before the season began.
“Before we even had a win under our belt, I think everyone could see this Rebels side was different.
“We’re part of a very special group.”
Kawa believes her team’s greatest area of improvement this year, came from within the girls themselves.
“From watching the last couple of Super W seasons, the biggest improvement has been the girl’s inner belief.
"Victoria and Melbourne in particular has always had great rugby players, but perhaps doubted themselves against big guns like NSW & QLD.
“This year - even as points were scored against us - it was the ability to bounce back, take back momentum throughout the games and to start playing a brand of rugby that Melbourne can call their own.
Kawa credits these improved on-field efforts to a productive off season which focused on teamwork, camaraderie and perfecting the fundamentals of rugby union.
“We put in a lot of work this past off season and had a clear focus from day one.
“With almost two thirds of the team being new players - myself included - it was vital that we all got to know each other and identify our whys before we sacrificed all the time, effort and money to play for each other.
“Creating a strong team culture was a collective goal we established early on in the season and it continued to grow stronger as the season progressed.
“We even had our own code of conduct which was ‘keep it above the line’, meaning our attitudes and behaviours should be a reflection of the team for all those watching and aspiring to be Rebels like us.”
Being part of Sunday’s historic moment as Co-Captain made the moment extra special for the thirty-four-year-old, a privilege she’ll cherish for a long-time.
“I was really honoured to be asked to Co-Captain especially with Medz.
“My aim as Co-Captain was to bring my knowledge and experience to the team, act as a calming influence during game time, and communicate my belief that we had awesome rugby to play if we all just switched our mindsets to the same goals."
Kawa believes Sunday’s performance provides the perfect building block for her sides upcoming pre-season campaign, in preparation for season 2021.
“Next season we’ll hopefully maintain a lot of the girls from this breakout season and keep that code of conduct strong, so that professionalism and winning mindset is there right from the start.”
As the Super W season draws to a close, Kawa’s believes Rebels supporters have good reason to be optimistic heading into the club’s fourth season of Super W rugby.
“Next season we’ll be a very competitive side, vying to play finals footy for the first time.
“We will be a physically fit and a more seasoned team of players in terms of our ability to play high level rugby against the best.
“I just hope to make our cub, supporters, friends and family proud again.”