Five Burleigh Bears will be on display when the Queensland Maroons take on the New South Wales Blues in the second annual women’s State of Origin this Friday night.
Bears skipper Tallisha Harden will be joined by Chelsea Lenarduzzi, Tazmin Gray and Amber Pilley in the Queensland team, while Millie Boyle will run out for the Blues.
Former Bears Karina Brown and Rona Peters will also feature in what is a glowing endorsement of how much the Burleigh women’s team has achieved in recent years.
“Karina Brown and a handful of others started this club a few years ago and it’s just grown exponentially,” Harden said.
“We’ve got a great coach in Tahnee Norris, awesome support staff and just a great culture and lots of girls who enjoy playing here and want to play here. It’s good having people that buy into the culture and are one big family.”
Harden will be pulling on the Maroons jumper for the second time, after coming off the bench last year.
Interstate fixtures have been played for many years, but 2018 was the first time the women’s game was included under the banner of State of Origin and with the fanfare and spotlight that comes with it.
The game, which NSW won 16-10, was a massive success. It was attended by almost 7,000 people at North Sydney Oval and was watched by approximately 1 million viewers at home.
It was a lightning rod for the continued growth of women’s rugby league and the hype around this year’s clash is even bigger.
“Just seeing the amount of younger people that came to the game was just crazy,” Harden said.
“Young girls, young boys – even middle aged or older people – were buying into the women’s game and just showing up and being a part of it. It was huge to see how much buy in there was from the community.
“It’s only going to get bigger and better as the years go on and I think it’s a testament to the girls that came before us. They paved the way for these opportunities, so it’s awesome that we respect them and acknowledge what they’ve done too.”
Harden and Tazmin Gray both took part in last year’s game, while Chelsea Lenarduzzi is returning to the Queensland team but will be playing her first Origin game after missing out last year.
Millie Boyle will be making her debut for the Blues after a standout performance in the National Championships and Amber Pilley has also earned a debut for Queensland.
“I’m so excited,” Pilley said of her selection. “It’s been a goal of mine for a very long time now and to be given the opportunity to be a part of it is just amazing and I can’t wait.
“I saw how big the hype was around it last year and how much the game grew just from that one game, so I can’t wait to be a part of it and see what I can do.”
Pilley’s star has risen significantly in the last 12 months. After being a member of Burleigh’s premiership winning team, she went on to win the inaugural NRLW competition with the Brisbane Broncos.
Her development at Burleigh is what first got her noticed and she said there is plenty of young talent at the Bears who have the potential to follow a similar path.
“People come here for a reason – it’s because we’re a close knit, family group and we play good footy and we’re probably led by the best coach that there is in this competition,” she said.
“So, coming here, heaps of girls know what they’re working for and want to work for contracts and know that it can happen.”
The Maroons take on the Blues this Friday night from 7.30pm. It will be broadcast live on Channel 9 and Fox League.
Meanwhile, the Bears are in action on Sunday afternoon when they hit the road to take on Toowoomba Valleys in a must win Round 10 clash.
With just five rounds left in the SEQW Division 1 regular season, the Bears are in fourth place with Souths Logan breathing down their neck just one point behind.