Sunday News

From Highland dancing to World Series prancing for young star Jorja Miller

Upon making the national side, the teen from Timaru told coaches she wanted to change the game of sevens. And, writes Aaron Goile, after becoming the player of the tournament in Sydney, she’s now indeed put the world on notice.


When Jorja Miller first entered the Black Ferns Sevens programme she was quizzed by the coaches about why she wanted to be there. Her response? ‘‘Because I want to change the game of sevens.’’

Not bad for a 17-year-old just finishing school and setting foot into a team full of legends.

‘‘I’ll always remember that,’’ New Zealand coach Cory Sweeney recalls, just over a year on. ‘‘That internal belief is unbelievab­le. And that’s just starting to come to the surface now.’’

Indeed, his young prodigy has put the rugby world on notice this past fortnight, playing starring roles in the side’s World Series wins in Hamilton and Sydney.

Miller, 19 next week, capped it off as player of the final in the event across the ditch, brilliantl­y setting up two tries for Tenika Willison in the 35-0 rout of France, with her speed, power, footwork, vision and distributi­on all superbly on show. And to think it was just her fifth appearance on the internatio­nal stage.

Recovery from a knee injury had robbed Miller of a shot at last year’s Commonweal­th Games, but soon after she debuted at the World Cup in Cape Town, before now taking her maiden World Series by storm this season.

‘‘She certainly hasn’t disappoint­ed from the moment she was first given that opportunit­y last year,’’ Sweeney says. ‘‘The last two tournament­s were where probably the rest of the world stood up and took note of Jorja, but we’ve known that this has been coming for a long time. And to think that she’s only 18 is quite incredible, really.’’

To put it in further perspectiv­e, when sevens made its Olympics debut in Rio in 2016,

Miller was still at intermedia­te school, where, with the students tasked with drawing someone they idolised, she sketched nowteam-mate Portia WoodmanWic­kliffe. ‘‘Way back then I thought she was the coolest thing ever,’’ Miller says, trying to recall if she had told the superstar this particular story. ‘‘I always give them some chat about being old, and how they’re closer in age to my mum than they are me.’’

The cheek of it. No wonder she has quickly establishe­d herself amongst the group as something of a pest, or ‘‘like the little sister’’, as Sweeney puts it.

‘‘She’s certainly full of energy,’’ he says. ‘‘I think it reenergise­s some of our more experience­d players. I know they say it’s annoying, but I think they love it as well. She’s got banter, and that’s not just isolated to the players, either. She’s more than confident to give it to coaches and management. She brings a really nice youthful energy into the group, and she plays like that as well, which is contagious for all of us.

‘‘On-field she brings this unknown quantity around just quite what she’s going to do, and everybody reacts around her, as opposed to playing too structured.’’

Miller is, for real, a little sister, born and bred in Timaru and following the lead of her two older brothers, taking up rugby as a four-year-old.

After moving from Timaru Girls’ High to Christchur­ch Girls’ High for her final two and a half years of school, as she sought more opportunit­ies in the sport,

she duly progressed to the Canterbury Farah Palmer Cup team.

However, she had always wanted to take the sevens route, and had caught plenty of attention in her appearance­s at the Condor Sevens with her school side, while also touring Europe with a New Zealand under-18 Dutch team ... despite not being Dutch.

‘‘In 2019 I realised at that stage I preferred sevens over 15s, just because of the style of rugby I like to play, I like quite a lot of space to be able to move round and step, it was a more exciting game,’’ says the now Mt Maunganui-based Miller.

Then, after earning a Black Ferns Sevens contract in January last year, it, eventually, began to dawn on her that she was about to be hitting the big time in this chosen gig.

‘‘I was excited, but when I turned up it was surreal, it felt weird that all the players I’d looked up to and idolised, I was actually with them,’’ she says.

‘‘Even just watching the skill


Taking on the world We run the rule over who’s in the running for Jitka Klimkov´a’s Football Ferns squad for global tournament

level and different drills, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so cool that everyone can catch and pass the ball properly’, from school rugby where there’s such a large variety of people who have played for ages, people who are just starting and everyone in between. It was such a big step up.’’

Where Miller immediatel­y held her own, though, is in the fitness stakes. Of all the gruelling exercises in her programme, the bronco is one she’s best at, and she figures a background in Highland dancing may have served her lungs well. Having followed her mum and nana in taking it up, also when aged four, Miller believes all that technical work on her toes has hugely aided her evasivenes­s on the footy field.

‘‘I think it’s given me a lot of agility, and I’m quite bouncy and lateral, and can adjust my feet quickly on attack, so I think definitely that comes down to all the dancing that’s been ingrained in me over the years,’’ she says.

‘‘I think the physio’s quite keen for me to keep it up, because it’s been such a big part of my life and just another aspect outside of rugby that will actually enhance my game as well, so it’d be cool to get back into it sometime soon.

‘‘The girls force me to teach them all these dances. I taught Portia the other day and she wasn’t too bad at it, so maybe she’ll keep it up.’’

For now, those twinkling toes are nestled in rugby boots, with Miller and her World Serieslead­ing mates now setting their sights on more glory in the final three tournament­s of the season – Vancouver (March 3-5), Hong Kong (March 31-April 2) and Toulouse (May 12-14) on this dream vocation.

‘‘It’s been so cool just travelling round to play rugby, when you think that’s my job to do,’’ she says. ‘‘From each tournament I’ve grown a lot of confidence and just backed myself with what I’m doing, and just know that the other girls and the coaches and management trust me and have my back, and that’s helped out a lot.’’

 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? GETTY/STUFF ?? Left: Highland dancing is another big passion for Jorja Miller, pictured competing in
2010. Right: Miller was named player of the final for the Black Ferns Sevens in Sydney last weekend. Below left: Miller playing sevens for South Canterbury Under-15 in 2018. Below right: The teenager is taking the World Sevens Series by storm.
GETTY/STUFF Left: Highland dancing is another big passion for Jorja Miller, pictured competing in 2010. Right: Miller was named player of the final for the Black Ferns Sevens in Sydney last weekend. Below left: Miller playing sevens for South Canterbury Under-15 in 2018. Below right: The teenager is taking the World Sevens Series by storm.
 ?? ??
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand