Former hockey star Mardi Watts to line up for Bathurst Bulldogs women in Central West rugby

STAR RECRUIT: Mardi Watts, pictured playing for Warringah, will line up for the Bulldogs this season. Photo: KAREN WATSON/ARU MEDIA
STAR RECRUIT: Mardi Watts, pictured playing for Warringah, will line up for the Bulldogs this season. Photo: KAREN WATSON/ARU MEDIA

When Mardi Watts last played sport in Bathurst nine years ago she was known for speed and clinical finishing - she still has those qualities, but now she will use them in a different code.

The former hockey star who represented her state and won Premier League titles with Bathurst City will this season line up for the Bathurst Bulldogs' women's rugby side.

Watts was part of the Jack Scott Cup winning Warringah Rats outfit in 2017 and has twice been named in the NSW Waratahs squad. So when some unfortunate circumstances led to her returning to Bathurst, the lure to lace up her boots was strong.

"I was meant to be moving over to Sweden, my boyfriend is Swedish, I was there for about three weeks then had to come home due to the coronavirus. They put a hold on all working visas, I so had to come home because of that," Watts said.

"I wasn't actually going to play again, I was a bit over all my injuries, but it was hard to say no when every time I drove past Hereford [Street] I saw the girls training.

"I thought everything was called off, but then it was back on so I thought, 'Sweet, I may as well play again'."

The injuries Watts, who plays at fullback or on the wing, spoke of have hampered her past two seasons. She tore the cartilage in her shoulder and had knee and hip issues due to overuse.

Adding to the pain of being sidelined was that she had been selected in the NSW Waratahs Super W squad in both 2018 and 2019, but the issues meant she did not get her chance to play in the national competition.

"It was still a good experience training at that level, I think half the team was in the Wallaroos, which was pretty cool," she said.

Watts' selection in that squad highlights how big an asset she will be for the Bulldogs. It also highlights how quickly she transformed from hockey star to union weapon.

"I had played a couple of games at school for Kelso High and loved it, but I was focused on hockey so I didn't really pursue it too much," Watts said.

"But then I stopped playing hockey and I missed team sport. I was living in Sydney at the time and saw the Rats girls training down there and thought I'd give it a go. I started playing 15s down there and them some sevens as well.

"It was definitely a pretty steep learning curve, sevens was not too bad as I guess I had a bit of speed from hockey. I started that and got a bit more confident with tackling then got into 15s, it was a really good bunch of girls who were welcoming and patient as well."

While Watts does not know a lot about the Central West women's competition or many of her new Bathurst team-mates, she is looking forward to wearing Bulldogs colours and enjoying a season of rugby she'd not anticipated.

"I knew Mandy Scott, we played touch ages ago and through some rep stuff as well, we were both in the [NSW] Country squad. Then Ali Stanford, I knew her from hockey back in the day as well," she said.

"I don't know too much about it [competition], but it's 10-a-side, which will be interesting as I haven't played that before. It will test the lungs out a bit because match fitness is probably a bit low at the moment."

This story New sport, new club: Watts is back in Bathurst first appeared on Western Advocate.