Timing is everything in sport … on and off the field.
This Sunday the timing is perfect for me. I am part of a rugby league dream that has been 110 years in the making.
That’s right, 110 years! The first ever Sydney Roosters men’s team was formed in 1908. And here we are 110 years later and the first Sydney Roosters women’s team was not only launched, but is in the inaugural NRL Women’s Premiership grand final.
It’s so exciting not just for the playing group, but for all the past players as well and everyone that’s been involved in the game.
This is years and years of hard work and to finally be here is really exciting. It’s also exciting for the future generations because this is just the start. The momentum is building.
There is nothing more pleasing than to be on the field and to see the young girls in the stands, knowing that now they can aspire to be a female footballer and play in the NRL.
I grew up watching and looking up to the male role models in AFL and NRL, never believing that I could actually be an NRL player. Well, here I am.
That was the realisation this year during the women’s inaugural State of Origin match in Sydney. There was a buzz the whole match caused by the young girls and boys there – the 8-to-12-year-olds.
In the final five minutes I could hear the girls and boys screaming for the home team: ‘New South Wales! New South Wales!’ Now of course that was horrible for me, a Queenslander.
But I thought ‘If that doesn’t lift you, nothing will’. That would’ve been a really special moment if you were wearing a New South Wales jersey. Now I want to experience that same feeling playing in Queensland!
But it doesn’t matter which state you’re from.
We’ve got thousands of girls that are just loving the game and now have female heroes to look up to, which is so important.
All this is about more than a game. We’re breaking down barriers. It’s about showing young girls, and boys too, that you can be whatever you want to be. It doesn’t have to be a rugby league star. You really can do anything when you set your mind to it.
That’s why, although I am excited, rapt, proud … to be part of this NRL ‘first’ on Sunday. I am also as equally proud of what I have been able to achieve at the grassroots of women’s sport. That goes right back to 2011 when I played my first season of rugby league for Runaway Bay, on the Gold Coast.
I then went overseas for a year and when I returned I decided to start another team at the Burleigh Bears club, which was close to where I lived. I was determined that the Gold Coast should have a team in the Brisbane comp.
I was really fortunate that the Burleigh CEO threw me a lifeline and basically said he was happy for a women’s team to wear the club colours, as long as I looked after the whole team. So, there I was, a 23-year-old, no idea what I was doing, but I had a dream.
There was also a motivation that was part of that dream. The long-running champions of the Brisbane women’s competition was a team called Souths Logan. They were undefeated for about seven years or something ridiculous like that. So rather than go and play for them, I thought: “No, I want to create a team that beats the champions”.
Now, it may have taken four seasons, but we finally beat them. And, to be honest, that win is still probably the most special moment in my career.
I’ve been fortunate to have experienced a lot of really amazing moments, but when you’ve built something and you’ve seen it through and it took four years to get there, never knowing when you’re going to get there … well to finally win, it was just fantastic.
I was really fortunate I had a great group of people around me – a great group of girls who just worked hard. We actually then won the premiership the year after as well.
Two years ago I left the Burleigh Bears because I moved to Brisbane with my partner Vanessa Foliaki, also my teammate at the Sydney Roosters as well.
We started the Easts Tigers women’s team and of course our goal then was to try to beat the Burleigh Bears.
For me, it’s about building the game. I could’ve stayed at Burleigh and won another couple of grand finals. But it’s bigger than that for me.
By leaving, I could create a new team and bring new girls into the game and train them and teach them all the things that I’ve learned in the game. So, that’s the harder route, but that’s the route that I took.
I’m enjoying the game … as much as ever (and the goal is still to knock off Burleigh). But, just like what happened at Burleigh, at Easts Tigers we have girls playing for the first time. I’ve learnt a lot from the great coaches over the years. So, I try and impart that.
But, it’s not just about what you can do on the field. It’s about what you do off the field as a person that’s important, as well – how you can be a better person.
One of the main things I’ve learnt from the game is resilience. I’ve had five surgeries, major surgeries, in the game.
That has taught me about being able to get back up – not just get back up on the footy field, but get back up in life.
Life knocks you down in so many different ways. I have been able to learn resilience and patience and understanding and just being able to use those sorts of qualities in other areas of my life.
It helps you as a person, helps you be able to deal with the stresses of everyday life. So, to be honest, those injuries have made me stronger and, in a way, I am thankful for them.
Even breaking my jaw eight weeks ago … as soon as I broke my jaw, I just Googled how long a broken jaw takes to heal. Google’s answer was ‘six weeks’. I thought: “I have seven weeks before the Women’s NRL competition starts.
No worries. I got this!” If I had not had the experiences and injuries through rugby league I might’ve been: “Oh, no, this is the worst thing in the world. How am I going to get through this?” But I did get through it. I got to play all three games and now the grand final.
I’m really thankful to the game. It’s taught me so much.
It’s good being able to share some wonderful experiences with my family and also the mateship that happens when you play rugby league.
You’re putting your body on the line for someone else.
You create that relationship on the field and it follows you off the field as well.
The first person you call when something’s going wrong is your friends from footy because they’ve just gone through so much with you on the field.
So, yeah, I just love the game. I’m really fortunate to be in the position that I am and I’ve got another great opportunity this weekend to hopefully win the first ever women’s NRL grand final.