What happened after the kiss
Karina: A decade before that photo, I’m 19 and crying in front of mum.
‘What is it? What is it?’ mum said.
‘I’ve got a girlfriend.’
‘Is that it?’
‘Is that it?! Is that not a big thing?’ I thought.
I don’t know why I thought it was going to be a big deal. You just look at the world around you. Ten years ago, it wasn’t that widely accepted. At least I didn’t feel that it was.
So, I was nervous. It was a big relief when Mum, watching me cry, said, ‘That’s just silly. Keep going!’
It was all good. She thought I’d lost my driver’s licence or something!
It was even OK with my Pop, who I was a bit nervous about.
He just said, ‘Mum told me about the thing.’
I said, ‘What’s the thing?’
He said, ‘You know, the thing.’
I caught on to what he was trying to say and he told me, ‘You know, you’ll always be my No.1 girl.’
It was relatively easy.
I think it was a bit harder for Vanessa.
Vanessa: My parents are still in the process of trying to be OK with it, I guess.
They’re from very traditional Tongan backgrounds, where that’s not OK. Being gay is not a thing in our culture.
I was 21, Karina was 25 when we got together and I came out to my family. But I didn’t get to tell mum and dad the news. My older brother, Niko, found out first and then he told them.
I’m actually glad that he did. I think I would have stalled for a while, that I wouldn’t have had the courage to come out and say it. My brother did it on my behalf, so I guess it was a blessing in disguise.
My siblings and my extended family are all on board with my relationship with Karina. They’re fine with it.
I think it went better than I expected, coming out to mum and dad. They are slowly coming around. It’s just taking some time and I’ll give them the time that they need.
My parents are from very traditional Tongan backgrounds, where that’s not OK. Being gay is not a thing in our culture.
Karina and I started in a Jillaroos Test camp.
We were both selected to play against New Zealand in 2014, a curtain-raiser for a men’s Four Nations match between the Kangaroos and Samoa in Wollongong. We lost 12-8.
We went out with the team after the match and at some point, Karina and I started talking. We hit it off and began to get to know each other.
As they say, the rest is history.
We started hanging out more in 2015. We did the long-distance thing: she was in Brisbane, I was in Sydney, so I went up a few weekends and she came down to visit me, too.
Eventually, we decided to be together. When you love someone, you make it happen. I moved to Brisbane, to support Karina staying in her job as an area manager with Philip Morris.
Our Jillaroos teammates have been nothing short of amazing. They’ve embraced our relationship from the beginning. We room together when we’re in camp for games and it’s accepted.
They even put our names together – we’re the Foliaki-Browns now.
THE ORIGIN KISS
Karina: It actually happened 45 minutes after the game had finished.
I live with Vanessa, so I see her every single day and kiss her every single day. Seven days without her – me in Queensland camp, her with NSW – was a long time.
It was just a fleeting moment in time. Probably one second, and the moment was done.
But there was a camera watching, which we didn’t know. It wasn’t until later that night when I saw the Facebook post and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’.
It went crazy for a few days.
It’s funny, because that’s just a normal moment for Ness and I, and for our friends and family. I feel really fortunate to have been born in a time where I could do that; be myself and not have to worry about who was watching me. I just felt comfortable kissing my girlfriend.
Origin is a tough, emotional time for us. We’re both passionate about our states and we take it very seriously. I was Queensland captain this year.
To barely speak for a whole week, to have nearly a hatred for each other – purely in terms of the state we’re playing for – it takes a toll.
I feel really fortunate to have been born in a time where I could do that … I just felt comfortable kissing my girlfriend.
So, to finally see her afterwards was very emotional. I was really proud of her achievement, winning the first official women’s State of Origin game, even though it came at my side’s expense. It’s a funny set of feelings to process.
I think I just congratulated her and said, ‘Thank God it’s over’. We kissed.
I think it was good for the world to see, to show how far we’ve come as a society. Yet also to show that we’ve still got some way to go. Not all the feedback was positive.
Despite some negative comments, there was overwhelming support, including from the NRL, which was great. It just made me laugh: I think the main reason for the negativity was that I was kissing a NSW player!
For some people, it’s still a shock. I guess the more we can get it out there, that it’s OK to be who you are, it won’t be a shock anymore. It’ll just be normal. It is normal.
I look forward to the day where my moment with Vanessa is just a regular post-match photo. And I don’t think we’re far off it.
A lot of people have messaged us to say that they were inspired by that moment; that they were going through some tough times themselves and it helped them to see that it’s OK to be yourself. That’s huge for me.
Anyone that I can help out, of course I would like to do that. I have no problem standing up and being a voice for others.
Vanessa: I didn’t know someone had taken that photo until I opened my phone up a while after Origin and I seriously had 50 social media tags.
I was like, ‘What’s going on here?’ I just thought it was heaps of people who had watched the game or something.
I opened it up and I was shocked at the beginning. I didn’t expect the NRL to put that picture of us kissing on their website or social media, considering how many followers they have and that some people have their own strong opinions on those things.
It was tough for me at the beginning. In my culture, that’s not accepted.
My family copped some backlash from the Tongan community. I didn’t like that. But I think things have calmed down a lot now.
A lot of my family members reached out when they saw the photo. They gave support to my parents and let them know that it was OK, that they were supporting me.
Mum and dad just said that they needed time to take it all in. It was hard for them, when no one was expecting the photo and then suddenly it was just out there for everyone to see. They were a bit overwhelmed. So was I.
But the majority of people who saw and commented on the picture were supportive. That was nice.
It was tough for me at the beginning. In my culture, that’s not accepted. My family copped some backlash from the Tongan community. I didn’t like that.
It was crazy. I got an extra 2000 followers on my Instagram. People were messaging me left, right and centre, I know it was the same with Karina. A whole heap of different journos contacted us, magazines wanted us to do stuff with them. Just wild.
When the full-time hooter went off, we didn’t shake hands with Queensland straightaway, we went off into our own groups and the Maroons went into a huddle. The post-match presentation happened, then the captains’ press conferences. We walked over and shook hands with them all eventually. I was the first person to go over and Karina was at the front.
It happened then, though I don’t remember that much about it. We kissed, which is a totally normal thing, and thought nothing of it. I probably just said, ‘Good game, can’t wait to see you after this’. It had been a long week apart.
Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. But hopefully one day soon, two girls can kiss in a photo and it can be uploaded with no backlash. That would be awesome.
We were getting messages from random people who wrote to us and said, ‘We’ve been going through the same thing and it’s nice to see athletes at your level come out and say that it’s OK’. It’s helped a lot of people, which is good. That’s what we want to do.
If a photo can help you be yourself and come out to your parents, then we’ve done our job. I didn’t realise how many people it had touched, and how many people there are out there who are still unable to come out to their parents – or anybody.
It was nice to hear from them and to give them hope.
A FOOTY PARTNERSHIP
Karina: It was funny. I’d put in an offer on a house in Brisbane the week before Origin.
A few things happened and then they rang in the middle of Origin week and told me, ‘You’ve got the house’.
I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is not good … because if I beat Vanessa this weekend, she’s probably going to break up with me and I’m going to have to pay the mortgage by myself!’. I was stressing.
Now, I’ve got a different problem: Ness wants to put up another framed Blues jersey. This year’s is special to her, being the first official Origin one. I said, ‘No! One’s enough!’.
The other one in our house was actually my fault. It’s the 2016 NSW jersey, the season they finally won after Queensland’s 17-year winning streak. That game was devastating for me. Heartbreaking. But I knew how much it meant to Ness, so I got it framed for her birthday.
Before that 2016 Origin game, Ness’ coach Ben Cross – a former men’s NSW prop – heard that we were partners and he was a little concerned about how it was going to go; if there was going to be any favouritism or issues. After he saw her smash me early in the game, he apparently turned to his assistant coach and said, ‘Yep – all good! No worries!’.
Ness always goes harder on me than anyone, just to prove she won’t go soft. This year was the first time in four Origins that she hasn’t tackled me. She was also a little more relaxed taking messages during the week – in her fourth year of Origin, mind you! Before that, she switched her phone off and I didn’t even know if she was alive.
My family love Ness and her ways. My Pop, Eddie Fox, is so funny. He was an AFL man, a really feisty guy who wouldn’t back down from a fight, who was in everything. He loves how Ness plays and how aggressive she is – especially towards me. I’m a little more placid, so I think she’s the bloody favourite!
After he saw her smash me early in the game, he apparently turned to his assistant coach and said, ‘Yep – all good! No worries!’
I’ve been involved in just two Queensland wins so far: 2010, my debut year, and 2012. In 2011, I was overseas. In 2013-14, I had two serious injuries to deal with – a shoulder reconstruction and a broken collarbone. I’ve also had a couple of broken hands.
Injuries are a fact of life in rugby league and I’ve just been handed another bad one: broken jaw, from the Sunday just gone.
Ness and I were playing for our Brisbane club, Easts Tigers, with me at fullback. We were winning inside the last two minutes of the game when a girl broke the line. I went to tackle her low, her knee hit me in the jaw and it broke in two places.
I had surgery Tuesday night. It’s been an ordeal and it will be touch and go whether I get to play in the inaugural NRL women’s premiership with the Sydney Roosters, starting in September.
Ness and I both signed with the Roosters. I’m still backing myself in. We can’t wait to play together. It’s historic and also a nice taste-tester for public interest, on the road to full-time professionalism. After one million people tuned in to watch women’s State of Origin, with 6000 fans at the ground, I have no doubt footy fans will get behind it.
But first, another injury recovery. These are the times when you really appreciate having a partner who knows what you’re going through, who can help you ride the rollercoaster.
I’m actually really thankful for the injuries that I’ve had. The resilience that you need to get back from those experiences helps you on and off the field, throughout your life.
Chook Brown Jaw Update: With 2min to go in the game on Sunday, I unfortunately broke my jaw in 2 places. I had surgery last night to put me back together again thanks to Dr Anthony Crombie. A guardian angel sent you – thank you Grebs. ❤️ This is just another challenge for me and one I won’t back down from. The best thing about this experience was to feel all the love and support that was around me and for that I am so grateful. Thank you to Souths Logan for all coming over and shaking my hand after the game and for those players that stayed with me until the ambulance arrived. A great display of sportsmanship. Thank you to the Easts tigers and our coaching/support crew who were part of an outstanding game yesterday, I was so proud of you all. Thanks to my family, friends and to my work family for all the calls, messages and for sending in the most beautiful flowers! To my wonderful mum and Dad, my step Dad and my Poppy who held me together. I love you all a lot. Thank you to all the staff at the Wesley Hospital who have been beyond amazing in my care. Thanks to my room mate @vdksimone for being a very kind and loving person. And Finally but most importantly to my girl @nessfoliaki – well you deserve your own post my superstar of a girlfriend. So I will save the accolades for later. You deserve all the beautiful words coming your way soon! I love you. My season is still in my hands at this point and I have my sights set on the WNRL premiership and playing for the mighty @sydneyroosters in September. It will be a tight run to the finish line butttt Rest assured I am going to make it! “Tough Times don’t Last, Tough People Do!” ❤️
And for every unexpected setback, there are wonderful highs. I grew up idolising Darren Lockyer. Today, little girls will tell me that their footy heroes are Ali Brigginshaw, Maddison Studdon, Vanessa Foliaki, alongside their male heroes.
I had a little boy come up to me and say that he can’t wait to be a Jillaroo one day. How fantastic is that?
Beyond footy, we’re in a time now where we have the opportunity – the same as everyone else – to have it all together: marriage, kids. It’s all on the cards.
We want a few kids. I’ll be having them first, seeing I’m 29. I think that will draw the line on my football career. I’ll know when it’s the right time to hang up the boots.
Hopefully, we get twins! Ness is a twin herself, with her brother Mathew, she has another set of twin sisters in her family, Lita and Edwina, and through IVF, there’s a higher percentage of twins. We’ll see how we go – we might have four kids in twins by the end of it.
I’ve always wanted to sit in the stands and be a WAG, to be honest! Bring the kids with Foliaki-Brown on the jersey and clap for mum. Although, Origin matches will be difficult – we’ll definitely be getting a half-half jersey. Or if we have twins, one each.
My family will be there for it all. My mum, Bernadette Fitch, and stepdad Tim Fitch; my dad, Paul Brown; my sisters, Cherise, Molly and Liani; and, of course, Pop. Grandma Marie Brown, too, who didn’t know a thing about rugby league but now watches with all her friends and knows more than me. They don’t miss a game. They won’t miss our big moments as a family. They are amazing and I couldn’t have done it all without them.
Vanessa: I was more relaxed in Origin this year, because I knew that in previous years Karina was having an anxiety attack and not dealing well with it when I’d ignore her messages! I thought I’d be nicer this year and give her the best opportunity to play well, not play the mind games so early in the week.
She played on the wing and I played lock, then got I injured in the first 20 minutes and didn’t come back on until the end of the second half. That’s why I missed tackling her this year – she got lucky!
I’ve been fortunate to win a few of Origins and Karina has never beaten me yet. In 2015, we drew – that was a good year, because we were both happy. Since then, I’ve had it over her, so it’s been good for me.
This year after buying the house, she was saying, ‘Oh, if I beat you, will you still live with me?’ I said, ‘I’ll have to think about that’. But it worked out fine!
I’d love to put that Origin jersey up on the wall. We got our NSW player numbers this year for the first time, which was something special. It was probably the highlight of my career, playing in an officially recognised State of Origin match and getting the win.
The start of this year has been amazing. I feel like I’m getting back to my best form. Last year, I felt slow after suffering my first major injury in 2016.
I broke my leg at the end of 2016, so badly that my foot was almost detached in an ankle dislocation. I needed surgery, a plate and screws, so it was a big thing to come back from.
I didn’t know how to take it. It was out of nowhere, right when I was at the peak of my career. Then, boom. Broken leg, out nine to 10 months.
This year after buying the house, she was saying, ‘Oh, if I beat you, will you still live with me?’ I said, ‘I’ll have to think about that’. But it worked out fine!
Karina knew what that was like. It was good having her there to help me through the injury and remind me that it was going to be OK, that it wasn’t the end of the world.
It was a massive year coming up in 2017, with the World Cup at the end. I kept thinking I was ready to come back; Auckland Nines, the Test match. The coaches kept saying no, that I needed more time. That was tough. And mid-season, Karina broke her left hand in three places.
In the end, we both made that World Cup squad. I got to be part of a world championship-winning team. It was a massive achievement for me to make it back.
It was hard not getting to play in the final but I was right alongside Karina after her and the girls beat New Zealand 23-16, in a double-header with the men’s final. And in one of the earlier games, against Canada, we both scored three tries each! That was really nice, to be able to do that together after we’d both worked so hard to get there and share that moment.
Hopefully this year, we’re celebrating an Easts Tigers premiership and also enjoying our first season of NRL together. I’ve played with plenty of the Roosters players over the years, in particular with the NSW team. It was a no-brainer for me to join them and Karina was keen on the challenge, as much as she loved the Brisbane Broncos growing up.
To make things fit in with work, we’ll train with our strength and conditioning coach in Brisbane, then fly down to Sydney to join the Roosters for their sessions on Thursday and Friday, play the game and come back.
First, we have to get Karina healthy again. Her broken jaw is just another bump in the road, a setback that we’ll overcome together.
Beyond footy, there are much bigger things to come – as Karina said, twins definitely run in my family! I couldn’t be sharing my life with a better person than Karina.