A woollen cap coloured green, complemented with an elegant lining of gold and crowned by the embroidered Australian Coat of Arms.
The Cap belonging to Wallaroo number 88.
For Melbourne Rebels’ Super W Head Coach, Alana Thomas, this treasured article of clothing represents so much more than just a piece of headwear.
It’s a symbol of distinguished pride - one of great triumph in overcoming the most trying of circumstances to grasp an achievement that demands decades worth of commitment, sacrifice and pain.
A cap which represents a lifelong connection to a moment, a team and a family which can never be broken, nor fade with time.
A celebration that has now become an integral part of the Melbourne Rebels Super W culture, thanks to the Rebels’ Head Coach.
“With Super W beginning in 2018, my partner and I decided that it would be a great idea to continue the rugby tradition of capping players and acknowledging the special place our players now hold in the history of women’s Super Rugby here in Melbourne,” said Thomas.
In 2020, through the help of Australian company Baggy Caps, Thomas and her partner designed and ordered over 80 caps to present to every single player that had represented the club, infusing the values of connection, pride and honour which are indispensable to the identity and long-term success of any sporting organisation.
“Our players’ names are now etched in the Rebels’ history.”
“Every player that is capped can now see those who have come before them.“Once a Melbourne Rebel, always a Melbourne Rebel and always part of our rugby family.”
Since the inauguration of Australia’s premier women's domestic XV’s competition in 2018, the Rebels have celebrated each of its 84 players who have played crucial roles in forwarding a game previously referred to as only being played in heaven.
Melbourne’s first capped Super W player, Samantha Homewood, praised the initiative before reflecting on her club’s maiden campaign, which kicked off against the Western Force on a late summer’s day in Perth back in 2018.
“It’s a fantastic initiative and one every player is immensely proud of,” said Homewood.
“It means I’m part of something bigger, something that helps pave a path for future females in our game to reach the highest honours.
“Stepping out onto that field in its inaugural year was the biggest honour - I stood out there representing my family, myself, and my rugby community.
“Looking back, it’s even more special and will always be a part of my growth as a player and person.”
Three years have passed since that historic first season, however Homewood remains deeply connected to Victorian rugby, with her unbreakable commitment playing a crucial role in driving the game’s growth across Melbourne and the wider state.
“I got to play my part in the beginning of this squad and now, getting the opportunity to watch our young club grow and flourish with all the young female players coming through, it’s been incredible.”
“We had no wins in my first season as a player, so to now see the coaching, management and playing group rewarded with results, it’s really heart-warming and illustrates the great potential in this squad.
“Female rugby is not slowing down - where there are opportunities there will be players ready to give it a go and make their mark.”
With September marking Oceania Rugby’s celebration of women in rugby, Thomas took time to pay tribute to some of the Rebels’ strongest female supporters, whose tireless work behind the scenes has made an irreplaceable impact on a club still in its infancy.
“There have been a number of great supporters both male and female who work for Rugby Victoria or the Melbourne Rebels, who volunteer their time to help grow the Super W program.”
“Some of the notable female influences include Liz Radcliffe and Sarah Stone, who have worked tirelessly with members of the Rugby Victoria board to secure sponsorship for our program which will allow us to build a sustainable program for our players.
“We are also incredibly fortunate to have a great Rebels’ supporter in Lyndsey Cattermole, who has been a driving force behind making sure our program will lead the way in Super W.”
From wearing the green and gold jersey to now leading the Rebels from the sidelines, Thomas has witnessed firsthand the growth of women’s XV’s rugby across Australia.
Following the recent ground-breaking broadcast deal with Nine and Stan Sports, the thirty-nine-year-old believes women’s rugby finally has the platform required to elevate the sport alongside the more recognised AFLW, NRLW and WBBL leagues.
“This is the fastest growing area of rugby globally.”
“We have to remember that rugby caters for everyone - different skills, shapes and sizes, it doesn’t matter. There will always be a position for you in a rugby team.
“To maximise this new exposure, we need to continue growing the number of Super W and Wallaroos games throughout the year, with the right amount of support around the players to do this.
“The new broadcast deal will highlight the great talent on display which in turn will bring in sponsors that will allow for us to take the women’s game to the next level.
“If you can see it, you can be it, and it opens up new stakeholders into the game.”
On September 8, Victorian rugby would be dealt a devastating blow when the State Government’s lockdown extension led to the cancellation of the remainder of the 2021 club rugby season.
Despite the heartbreaking announcement, Thomas believes there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and through love, connection and support, Victorian women’s rugby will be back, stronger than ever in season 2022.
“Times are tough right now but the love in the community and the passion we each hold for the game will help us through these times."
“Seeing players reaching out, asking for help, and supporting each other really shows what a great community we have in Victoria.
“I encourage all players to stay connected and to reach out to your teammates and coaches to see if they are ok.
“Be kind to yourself, you will have good days and bad days, but remember this is ok and there are people there to support you.”