Aussie Sevens stars Emma Tonegato and Shannon Parry are pushing for Sydney 7s returns, leaving coach John Manenti with a welcome, but almost unprecedented, headache.
Manenti took the reins of the team after last year’s Commonwealth Games but since then the women have had little luck with injury.
Rio gold medallists Alicia Quirk, Ellia Green, Emilee Cherry, Tonegato and Parry have all had time on the sidelines in recent months, and superstar Charlotte Caslick has already been ruled out of the Sydney 7s, leaving Manenti to rely on the next generation to step up.
Tonegato, who had a shoulder injury, has been back into full contact training in recent weeks and Parry is doing everything possible to overcome a syndesmosis injury.
With three weeks until the Sydney tournament kicks off, Manenti said he was optimistic that the pair would be back in action.
“Emma's been training well, she trained right through the break and is very much on track to return to play in Sydney,” he said.
“Also, Shannon's been injured and whatnot and she's looking highly likely, still got a little bit to go but she would certainly be available for selection if she continues to progress on the path she's on at the moment.
“A couple of good add-ins there and also puts some good competition around the group because a few of the other girls that stood up last time don't really want to relinquish their position so it keeps it interesting.”
Their returns give Manenti a headache he hasn’t had for in the team’s recent injury-riddled ride.
“At the moment, I've got a lot of hard selection calls to make, which is good, which is probably the first time since I've been in the chair that I feel like I've actually got to work out who I'm leaving out rather than who I'm going to put in and that's a good thing,” he said.
The women will have an internal trial in the coming weeks to help sort out some of those more difficult calls. That's a luxury Manenti simply hasn’t had numbers for in the past.
“The girls are pretty excited about it and for the first time in a long time we're having an internal trial where we put the girls against each other and it's just part of the competition we're generating with the group,” he said.
“The girls can show us who wants to put their hand up and who wants to be in Sydney the most.
“The trial won't be exclusive to selection but it'll certainly help separate a few close ones I think.”
The competition only becomes more fierce with the lure of a home town tournament. Manenti said Sydney 7s was being treated as their showpiece with no World Cup, Olympics or Commonwealth Games in 2019.
“Everyone’s really starting to lift into the fact that we've got our big tournament (coming up),” he said.
“This is really our special tournament for the year being the home tournament. It’s not a World Cup year, not an Olympic year, this stands out for us as a premium event and hopefully the crowd get behind us and support it because both the boys and us have got a fair bit to play for.”
This year’s Sydney 7s has been shifted out to Homebush’s Spotless Stadium due to the demolition of Allianz Stadium and the women have held training sessions in the precinct to help familiarise themselves with the new surroundings.
Both the men and women will be defending their 2018 titles in the competition after the women went through without conceding a point in last year’s tournament.
The 2019 Sydney 7s kicks off on Friday February 1, running until Sunday February 3. Buy tickets here.