I NEVER THOUGHT I’D PLAY AGAIN
I stayed away for 18 months. It was late last year that I ran into some old touch footy mates and girls I’d known for a few years who were based at Cronulla Sharks.
My partner, Aaron Gray, plays for the Sharks too, so I was based down in the Shire.
It was very convenient for me and I started to crave footy again and was itching to get back on the field.
I thought I may as well go down for pre-season and see how I’d find it. I haven’t looked back. It’s the best decision I’ve made and I’m really happy with where I’m at with rugby league.
After Dad passed, Mum went to the same artist and told him, ‘I want a piece of Solomon’s tattoo as a band around my thigh just so I can have a piece of him wherever I go for the rest of my life’.
It’s a very different experience to what I had with sevens. A completely different environment and different game. And I’m loving it.
I’ve been a massive supporter of women’s league and have watched it closely over the past few years. But I never really thought I’d play the code again.
As a kid I played until I was 11 and then girls weren’t allowed to play with the boys any more – a common story among the female players of this day and age.
The rugby league pathway came to a dead end quickly. There were three girls in our mixed team and I still know them to this day. One plays for South Sydney. The other I did a lot of athletics with. All of us had to stop playing.
The reasoning, I guess, was because the boys start to really develop and they get strong and the girls probably won’t handle the contact. It’s probably not safe for girls to play against boys past the age of 12.
I started because I wanted to get into contact sport. I loved playing touch footy but I was quite physical and aggressive when I was young.
I was never hesitant going into contact and I thought it was a really cool concept that the girls were playing with the boys.
At school, we’d always play footy in the playground at lunchtime. We never saw the distinction between boys and girls – it was just ‘let’s go play footy’.
I don’t think as 11-year-olds we thought about it being a gender-based issue. To be able to play footy on the weekends with friends from school was just a cool idea.
I went into athletics and didn’t find sevens until I was 16 at a schools tournament. Because I played a lot of sport over the years I didn’t think too much about it, but looking back at that and the progression of women’s rugby league, to be able to have that pathway and opportunity for the young females at that age group would have immensely helped the growth of the game.
It got to a stage where there was floating cartilage they needed to get rid of, so they made the call. I was ruled out of the Olympics a week before the team left for preparation camp.
You look at the men and they have had that consistent pathway from the start through to their 20s and you look at the skills they develop over that period and the instinctive way of playing football they have.
If the pathway had been there for girls, where women’s rugby league is today it could have been 10 to 15 years ago. Having to be reintroduced to the sport at my age, you’re playing catch-up on what you could have been learning 12 or 15 years ago.
You look at the success of the Matildas and how much soccer has put into the grassroots for girls and the proof is in the pudding.
I was part of the rugby sevens program back before it gained much media attention. To see how rapidly it grew and how much support there is now … I think there is still a long way to go for women’s league but I believe in its own way it will get there.
I think it’s really hard when people who don’t know much about the sport compare it to the men’s game. As players, all we can do is go out there and make the most of every opportunity we’re given and just be grateful we are here and have been given these opportunities.
Women’s rugby league is a space I believe rugby sevens was seven or eight years ago – just scratching the surface. To see how much support is already being thrown behind the game is so exciting.
I know it took a lot for rugby union to come to the table even media-wise to give women’s rugby that much exposure. I feel rugby league is really growing in leaps and bounds.
Along the line there has been that older-generation person who’s said rugby league’s a man’s game, your face is too pretty to be playing a contact sport. But thankfully it hasn’t happened often.
I think it’s about who you are around, who’s in your bubble, your world and who you surround yourself with. I’ve only ever had support and people who are excited about the game.
I’LL TAKE EVERY OPPORTUNITY
My Mum wouldn’t miss my Origin debut for the world. Mum and Aaron are recruiting as many family and friends as they can to be out there to support us.
Aaron is a massive supporter and always has been. During my sevens career, he was up at 4am watching our games and messaging me and supporting. In terms of rugby league he’s been so helpful.
When I ask his advice, he’s always happy to give it but he never puts it on me unless I ask for it.
He knows what it’s like. Lives and breathes footy. He loves being a defensive centre. I have plenty of questions to throw at him and he’s very helpful and knowledgeable.
Origin looks like the pinnacle of the men’s game and I get the impression it is for us too, just being around camp and seeing how passionate everyone is about this game. It’s really exciting to ride that wave.
I’m still the new kid, I can’t really comment too much on rugby league comparisons. I’ve never been a Jillaroo, but that’s an ambition for sure. I’ll take every opportunity I can.
Rugby sevens? I think it’s done for me. I got to a stage where I thought, ‘Maybe I’m not into footy anymore. Maybe I’m done’. People looked at me and said, ‘That’s very melodramatic, 21 years old and you’ve retired’.
And it is melodramatic. But when you look at my story, a lot has happened. Where I am now, I didn’t think I would take to league as well as I have and I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I have been.