Frenchville Pioneers women's team (back row, from left) assistant coach Steve Anderson, Sydney Jennifer, Pam Shackleton, Peppa Hoare, Kate Strong, Tylah Phillips and coach Robbie Chelepy; (front row, from left) Amber Shepherd, captain Tay Steere, Jess Allen and Whaiora Rakena.
Frenchville Pioneers women's team (back row, from left) assistant coach Steve Anderson, Sydney Jennifer, Pam Shackleton, Peppa Hoare, Kate Strong, Tylah Phillips and coach Robbie Chelepy; (front row, from left) Amber Shepherd, captain Tay Steere, Jess Allen and Whaiora Rakena.

‘It is terrific’: Historic day for CQ rugby club

Saturday was a historic day for the Frenchville Pioneers.

Vickie Hirsimaki, the first female president of the club, watched on as the club’s first women’s team shone on debut in the Rugby Capricornia women 7s competition.

They beat reigning champions Rockhampton Brothers in two of their three games as the 2021 season kicked off.

Hirsimaki said it was monumental for her and for the club.

“It is terrific that in the same year we get a female president we get a female team together,” she said.

“It feels like the club’s complete now. We have the full set – juniors, men and women – and that’s a great thing to be able to say.”

Hirsimaki has been involved in different capacities with Frenchville since her son Aarre started playing at age eight.

“I’m not one to sit on the hill. I’m always happy to put my hand up if something needs to be done,” she said.

Frenchville Pioneers first female president Vickie Hirsimaki (far right) with the club's team that won the mixed division at the Whitsunday Rugby Touch 7s Festival in February.
Frenchville Pioneers first female president Vickie Hirsimaki (far right) with the club's team that won the mixed division at the Whitsunday Rugby Touch 7s Festival in February.

She joined the committee in 2019 and, on the urgings of fellow members, decided to have a crack at the top job.

She ran unopposed, replacing Ashley Gowlett who had held the position for seven years.

Hirsimaki said it had been a “steep learning curve” but Gowlett, who is now the vice-president, was a fountain of knowledge and had been a wonderful support for her, as has the very experienced committee.

She said the Frenchville Pioneers had been trying for several years to get a women’s team and it was fantastic it had finally happened.

“We had a set of jerseys sitting there and no team, but we just reached out and put it out to as many people as we could,” she said.

“It was tough going, I won’t lie. Four weeks ago, we had five players but as it got closer and the girls started talking to other girls, we ended up with some solid numbers.”

Frenchville Pioneers and Rockhampton Brothers A-grade men after their spirited Round 1 clash, in which Frenchville prevailed 34-10.
Frenchville Pioneers and Rockhampton Brothers A-grade men after their spirited Round 1 clash, in which Frenchville prevailed 34-10.

Hirsimaki said the team, which was coached by Robbie Chelepy, had no grand expectations heading into Saturday’s games.

“We weren’t expecting to win any because Brothers is such a highly rated team,” she said.

“They scored first in the first game, but our girls rallied and by the second half they had found their feet as a team.”

Frenchville won the first two games 14-10 and 21-0, while Brothers won the third 14-0.

Captain Tay Steere led from the front, her defence and organisational skills instrumental in Frenchville’s success.

Amber Shepherd scored two tries in her first 7s appearance, impressing with her speed and tenacity, while Sydney Jennifer was a force around the ruck.

Hirsimaki said the team would grow in confidence from Saturday’s results.

“It was a great team effort. They all support each other and they’re very positive and encouraging, which is great.”

Frenchville’s A-grade men also made a strong start to the season, beating last year’s premiers Rockhampton Brothers 34-10.

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