By Pat McLeod
There have been some long hours in Mel Wilks’ journey to overnight success as a Bond Bull Sharks rugby union player.
In any team sport, commitment is a key ingredient. On August 28, when Wilks will line up with her Women’s Premier Grade side in an elimination final, nobody will be able to question her commitment to the cause.
Her meteoric rise in the sport is only matched by her own sacrifice.
Here’s her training day schedule for the past two years:
2pm-5pm: The two-three-hour drive (depending on traffic) from home at Elimbah, on the Sunshine Coast, to training on the Gold Coast.
8pm-10pm: Drive home.
2am-11.30am: Work at a food distribution business.
“It has basically been full time sport and work – a 20-hour day,” she says, without fanfare.
“Fortunately, there’s a day in between training days (Tuesday and Thursday) and then the game (Saturday), so that is when I caught up on some sleep.
“You get used to it.”
The fact that she also drives past every other Brisbane premier club on her way to the Gold Coast adds to the ‘commitment formula’.
“Both my Bond coaches, Lawrence (Faifua) and Setu (Naseri) have suggested I play for another Brisbane club, to be closer to home,” Wilks explains.
“They have told me they would be sorry to lose me, but they were concerned for me, especially the fact that I worked at night.
“So, we have had that conversation. That only proves they have my best interests at heart. I know I can trust them. But, I am happy where I am. The bunch of girls down there … the culture. I don’t need to leave.”
In just the past week the situation has improved, with Wilks now working a ‘day job’ with Re/Max Living, Burpengary, as a sales administrator.
She’s enjoying the role and doesn’t miss the night shifts.
It has also allowed her a brief moment to catch her breath and absorb what she has achieved in the past two years – elevating from talented touch football player to being on the cusp of Wallaroos selection.
In about July, 2019, Wilks was at her local Caboolture touch club doing a fitness session. Adjacent is the Caboolture rugby club. Proving that timing is everything in life, at that precise moment Australian Rugby Union official Jarred Hodges was conducting a session to identify future elite rugby 7s players.
The session was short on numbers so Wilks was invited to take part. Hodges immediately identified potential and he passed on Wilks’ details to Bond University Director of Rugby Luca Liussi.
Within days Wilks was a Bull Shark and her progression in the sport has been incredible.
She had rep honours in touch, but has quickly added to those in rugby. For the past two seasons she has played Aon Women’s Uni 7s with Bond, has been chosen for the Qld Reds in the Super W competition and recently was named in the Players of National Interest (PONI) Wallaroos training squad.
She says she is undecided which rugby version she will ultimately chose – 7s of 15s – but loves playing both.
“I like sevens because you get to handle the ball more and it is a bit more free-flowing,” she says. “But I like the culture of the 15s, so I am still deciding.”
With the finals now on the doorstep, Wilks has no doubt the Bull Sharks women can go all the way.
“This is a premiership side,” she says with conviction. “It is probably the most skillful team and one of the fastest in the competition.
“We are also one of the smallest teams and (finals opponents) GPS have one of the biggest forward packs, so scrums and set pieces and defending in our own 22 will be hard. But we also have a lot of Queensland Reds players in our forward pack. So, yes, I am very confident.”
Bond Premier Women’s head coach Lawrence Faifua says Wilks will be a ‘crucial’ player in the finals series.
“Mel is better suited as a centre, but she is very versatile and will play any where that she is needed,” he said. “At the moment we have her at fullback.
“She is crucial because not only is she a big-game player, but she is a leader … a quiet leader who does most of her talking with her actions on the field.”