Injuries wreak havoc on Freddy’s Origin selections, but there’s a silver lining for some deserving players

This article was first written for and published for The Roar.

I’m not sure what has caused more chaos to my weekend – injury concerns in the NRL or Brad Fittler surprising all of us and deciding to announce his New South Wales Blues squad for State of Origin Game 2 at 10.30pm on Saturday night.

The announcement took place just after Ireland had beaten the Wallabies in the rugby and France had beaten the Socceroos at the World Cup.

Why a big crowd is crucial to history-making women’s Origin clash

This article was first written for and published for NRL.com.

Next Friday night when NSW and Queensland take the field at North Sydney Oval to take part in the first ever Women’s State of Origin, I will be watching history in the making from the grandstands.

I don’t know exactly how I’ll feel when those women take the field, but I imagine I will be quite emotional.

Over time, I have come to know most of the women who will be competing. Some, I am lucky enough to call friends and I have been privileged enough to watch their careers flourish as there has been increased opportunity for women to play rugby league.

Mary’s Wonder Women: One week till State of Origin

This article was first written for and published for The Roar.

We are exactly one week out from the first women’s State of Origin at North Sydney Oval.

When I sit in the grandstands and watch the New South Wales Blues and Queensland Maroons run onto the field under Friday night lights, I will be watching history and another giant step forward in the development of the women’s game.

While this may be the first State of Origin, it is certainly not the beginning of the rivalry between the NSW and Queensland women. A state vs state type contest has been played for almost 20 years.

In defence of referees

This article was first written and published for the Roar

I have a friend. Let’s call him John.

John was brought up in a family that loves rugby league. When he was younger, he played footy, mainly on the wing because he was very quick. He even managed to score his fair share of tries.

But as he got older, John was no longer as interested in playing footy, he wanted to be involved in the game in a different way.

MCG memories will linger for Blues but don’t write off Maroons

This article was first written for and published for NRL.com.

I’m writing this column with my NSW Blues scarf wrapped around my neck. As a Blues fan, wearing my scarf with pride is not something I have had the opportunity to do much of over the last decade.

So after the Blues’ 22-12 win over the Queensland Maroons on Wednesday night, I’m taking my opportunity with both hands.

Mary’s Wonder Women: Triple threat for the Red V

This article was first written for and published for The Roar.

As the beginning of the NRL’s Women’s competition edges closer, I knew it wouldn’t be too long before the four clubs involved –  the St George Illawarra Dragons, Sydney Roosters, New Zealand Warriors and Brisbane Broncos – started making signing announcements.

The Dragons were the first, earlier this week announcing three of the biggest names in women’s rugby league had committed to the Red V for the inaugural season – Australian Jillaroos Samantha Bremner, Kezie Apps and Talesha Quinn.

This is almost enough for me to pledge my support to the Dragons for the first season (as long as I can get a jersey with Kezie Apps’ name on it).

But in case you haven’t heard of these women before, here’s what makes them so special.

Sammy first started playing rugby league when she was 18 years old, because her mum, Maria, wasn’t keen on her playing when she was younger. But it wasn’t enough that she started playing, she also helped establish the team in Helensburgh.

In that team were plenty of other future Jillaroos and teammates, including Kezie and Maddie Studdon.

Without Sammy’s contribution, the Illawarra competition would look very different and perhaps the Dragons would not have been in as strong as a position when it came to preparing their bid for a licence last year.

Since then, Sammy has represented and captained the Jillaroos, leading them to a win at the Auckland Nines last year.

She has also been part of the New South Wales squad that beat Queensland in the Interstate Challenge the last two years, and – barring injury – will feature in the first women’s State of Origin, later this month.

Sammy has faced plenty of challenges, spending most of last year on the sidelines due to injury. These woes look to be behind her though, given how well she played for Country NSW in the NSW National Championships on the weekend, being named Player of the Carnival.

The most remarkable thing about Sammy though is her smile. Sammy is joy personified and has been a passionate and fearless advocate for the women’s game.

Little girls are already dressing up as Sam for ‘Book Week’ – imagine what happens when she pulls on that red and white jersey.

Kezie is another familiar face in the Illawarra, being instrumental in helping the Dragons prepare their tender for the competition.

Kezie only knew women played rugby league because, during an ad break of The Simpsons she was watching in 2013, she saw women playing footy at the World Cup and thought she would give it a go.

She then spent her Saturdays driving with her mum, Dawn, from Bega to Sydney and back again to play footy. That’s a round trip of around 11 hours, and one which saw the Apps’ car do over 100,000 kilometres in four years.

Kezie is also a Jillaroo, has been part of the winning NSW Interstate Challenge team, and was named the Dally M women’s Player of the Year in 2016.

This is a woman whose rise I have enjoyed watching immensely.

Talesha is in the army and moved to Queensland a couple of years ago to pursue rugby league. Unfortunately, when she got there, the competition she was looking to play in no longer existed.

Talesha spent some time playing other sports, but rugby league had her heart, so much so that when she found out the Cronulla Sharks would have a nines team in 2017, she organised a transfer back to Sydney.

Last year, Talesha not only represented the Sharks, she played for NSW and for Australia in the World Cup. Quite an incredible sequence of events in just over a year.

Now she can call herself a contracted player in the inaugural competition too.

While these women are not the first to sign a contract with an NRL club (Ruan Sims set that mark last year, when she penned a deal with the Cronulla Sharks), this is potentially of greater significance, because these three actually have a competition in which to play (unlike Ruan when she signed).

A list of 60 marquee players has been provided to the four clubs by the NRL and a recruitment window is in place to offer contracts to these players until June 11. Following that, there will be a free agency period.

Expect plenty more news in the coming weeks, with several New Zealand Ferns chatting to the Warriors, Karina Brown linked to the Broncos, and plenty of other Sydney-based Jillaroos looking for clubs.

And until that inaugural competition begins, make sure you mark Friday June 22 at North Sydney Oval in your diary. This could potentially be the first year that the NSW men and women win their respective State of Origins in the same year.

 

The NSW Blues are going to win Origin 1. Here’s why

This article was first written for and published for The Roar.

It’s been a tough last decade for New South Wales Blues fans in the men’s State of Origin arena.

The Queensland Maroons, led by Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis and Cooper Cronk, have won 11 out of the last 12 series, establishing a dynasty that footy fans may never see the likes of again.

But, with his selection of 11 Blues debutants last Monday night including Jack de Belin, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Damien Cook and Josh Addo-Carr, Brad Fittler has almost single-handedly reinvigorated the State of Origin concept, which was getting a bit stale.

Proud moment for Inglis leading Maroons into battle

This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.

GI a natural fit for captaincy

I may be from New South Wales, but the significance of Greg Inglis (also from New South Wales) being named as the third Indigenous player after Arthur Beetson and Gorden Tallis to captain the Maroons was not lost on me.

With Cameron Smith’s shock retirement from representative football, it felt to me that GI was the natural fit for the next Maroons captain. He has played over 30 State of Origins for Queensland and been one of the most dominant players at that level for many years.

NSW Blues team for Origin 1: Expert reaction

This article was first written for and published for The Roar.

After weeks (or is that months?) of speculation, new New South Wales Blues coach Brad Fittler has named his squad for Origin 1.

As as always, there are the usual mix of usual suspects, surprise inclusions and shock omissions in the Origin team, although with 11 debutants there are plenty of brave decisions by the NSW selectors.

To help you make sense of the squad, here are my thoughts on each of the players named by Fittler.

Who will play for the New South Wales Blues?

This article was first written for and published for The Roar.

Tonight, Brad Fittler will finally announce his New South Wales Blues squad to take on the Queensland Maroons for State of Origin Game I on Wednesday 6 June at the MCG.

The build-up to this series has been one of my favourites in recent years – potentially because I do see a glimmer of hope for the Blues.

But let’s start with the Maroons. Following Cameron Smith’s recent announcement about his retirement from all forms of representative football, the narrative about the Maroons in the media has very much been about a changing of the guard.