Just prior to kick-off of the opening 2019 Top 4 girls semi-final between Onehunga High School (representing the Blues region) and Christchurch Girls’ High School (South Island) this humble correspondent asked a group of CGHS supporters who to look out for in their team.
“Our year 11 openside flanker,” they responded in unison, pointing to Jorja Miller in centre field waiting for the referee’s whistle to get the match underway.
By halftime, their punditry was justified. The openside was having a blinder, tearing into anything that moved on defence and creating numerous chances on attack. Her second half performance was just as ebullient as CGHS went on to win 57-7.
Meanwhile, over the trees on the main field at Massey, defending champions Hamilton Girls’ High School enjoyed a 50-7 win over hometown school Manukura.
How would Christchurch and their young openside fare against Hamilton’s superior power and size in the final? As it transpired, Hamilton won the final comfortably, dominating the physical exchanges and winning 58-17.
But once again, it was the performance of Jorja Miller that stood out. She picked up from where she left off and ripped into the opposition in a fearless display in a losing cause.
Jorja was College Sport Media’s Player of the 2019 Top 4, following on from Alena Saili (Southland Girls’ High School) in 2016, Dhys Faleafaga (St Mary’s College) in 2017 and Jazmin Hotham (Hamilton GHS) in 2018 – all in winning teams.
Fast-forward almost two years, and Jorja has recently been named as the only current school player in the Canterbury Women’s NPC squad for the upcoming Farah Palmer Cup national provincial competition.
She is coming off her first full season club rugby. “I have been playing all year so far for the High School Old Boys team. We lost our playoff for third and fourth last weekend against Canterbury University, but this year I have got to know many of the players now in the Canterbury squad.”
This past weekend, Jorja and the squad had an internal camp, ahead of pre-season matches against Otago and the Canterbury Development team.
“It was my goal to make the Canterbury team, but considering it was my first year playing senior rugby and being still at school I wasn’t sure if I was going to be ready for it. But then having been selected it was awesome to get the phone call from the coach!”
The Christchurch Girls’ High School team are the seven-time Canterbury schoolgirls competition champions, and their season is well underway.
“Although we have only had a few games, the weather has been average, and some have been cancelled.”
The final is set down for 11 August, with the winner playing the Otago/Southland winner for the right to represent the South Island at the Top 4. The Top 4 tournament has also been pushed back a couple of weeks this year to later in September.
There was no Top 4 tournament last year because of Covid, but Jorja is one of several players returning from 2019.
She is the vice-captain of her school team this year, with first-five Mia Cochrane the captain.
Mia and loose forward Holly Wratt Groeneweg are in the Canterbury FPC Development team, while year 10 midfielder Kelera Qalivutu is an up-and-coming player to watch.
CGHS also has a second XV in 2021, filled with some exciting Year 9 and 10 talent. The school plans to enter an U15 team at the Condors 7s for the first time later in the year.
From South Canterbury and a student at Timaru Girls’ High School in years 9 and 10 before starting as a boarder at CGHS in year 11, Jorja has been playing rugby most of her life.
“I started when I was four. I was always playing rugby with my brothers in the backyard and my dad played rugby as well, so I grew up around the game and naturally started playing.”
She started off in the backs. “I always played halfback until U12s and then in a rep trial they needed someone to fill in at openside flanker and I ended up playing there and staying there.”
She also played for the Dutch-NZ U18 Women’s team in year 10 and toured overseas and played games in London, Paris and Amsterdam.
“Although I am not Dutch at all! I got invited to play for the team by a coach and joined the team that way.”
As well as 15s rugby, Jorja loves sevens and has found success in the shorter form of the game in recent years.
In fact, she was named in the Condor 7s tournament team two years running and was Player of the Tournament in 2019 when she helped CGHS win the title for the first time in the annual national schools tournament that is played in Auckland every December.
Jorja scored four tries in the final as CGHS beat Howick College 29-14 in the 2019 decider.
They were not able to match the feat in 2020. “We lost our semi-final to Manukura [19-24], which was pretty gutting, but I think looking back we could have worked harder and that would have got us up.”
She has also played in the World Schools 7s tournament in each of the past two years, for the Condor 7s Tournament Team, reaching the semi-finals in 2019 and winning in 2020. “We won last year but that was an internal Aotearoa tournament with no international teams because of Covid.”
This April she played in Wellington in New Zealand Rugby’s Takiwhitu Tūturu sevens weekend, which culminated in two games at Wellington Stadium either side of a Crusaders-Hurricanes Super Rugby game.
“I was part of the Black Ferns Sevens squad, and then we split into two even teams and played each other plus a Moana Pasifika team and a composite Black Ferns team. I really enjoyed that weekend and learnt a lot.”
What rugby format does she prefer?
“At the moment I prefer sevens, because it suits the way I play rugby better. More space, more opportunities to run with the ball. But this 15s season has been really fun so far and I am really enjoying that as well.”
Rugby is not her only sport.
“Highland Dancing is my other passion. I find the two sports complement each other and it helps my rugby. I compete in New Zealand competitions, which is once a year.”
In her last year of school, Jorja hopes to continue with rugby into the future.
“Hopefully, I can go down the Black Ferns Sevens pathways, but I am also thinking of doing health science and becoming a physio.”
Article and photos unless otherwise credited by Steven White, for College Sport Media.
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