This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.
n just six sleeps time, the Australian Jillaroos will run out onto the field at Southern Cross Group Stadium to compete in their first 2017 Women’s Rugby League World Cup game against the Cook Islands.
The Jillaroos game will form part of a triple-header celebration of the women’s game which will also see the Kiwi Ferns play against the Canada Ravens and England play against the Papua New Guinea Orchids.
In this Australian Jillaroos squad there are plenty of familiar faces including Ruan Sims, Kezie Apps, Maddie Studdon, Ali Brigginshaw, Chelsea Baker and Sam Bremner.
While the women I have just named are women you should certainly watch during the Jillaroos World Cup campaign, I thought I would introduce you to some other squad members who you should also be keeping an eye on.
Talesha is one of my favourite stories from 2017.
Talesha is in the army and has moved all over Australia pursing her dream to play professional rugby league.
A couple of years ago Talesha decided to move her life and career to Queensland because she had heard of a women’s rugby league competition that existed up north. By the time Talesha got there, the competition was no longer running.
After that initial disappointment, Talesha decided to give other sports a go (including rugby union). But nothing quite had the same pull as rugby league.
When Talesha heard that at the start of 2017 the Cronulla Sharks would be launching a women’s 9s side of their own, she decided to give it one more go and got herself relocated from Queensland back to Sydney so that she could try and make the team.
At that stage in the year, Talesha’s goal was just to play footy again. But then she made the Cronulla Sharks Women’s team and the bar moved.
Talesha’s new goal was to represent New South Wales in the Interstate Challenge.
She also managed to tick off that honour earlier this year when she made her debut for the Blues in August, helping them to beat the Queensland Maroons 22-6 to win the Challenge for the second year in a row.
Was Australian Jillaroos selection too big of a dream for a young woman who only returned to the game at the start of the year?
Not in Talesha’s case. She was named earlier this month as part of the Australian Jillaroos squad and I could not be prouder.
To see Talesha represent not just the Cronulla Sharks, the New South Wales Blues and now the Australian Jillaroos is extraordinary and I congratulate her on her commitment to footy and am so glad that she decided to come back to the game.
I can’t wait to see her run out in that green and gold jersey.
Meg Ward represents a whole new group of women who are coming to rugby league.
Meg has excelled at a number of sports and was a Reds Rugby women’s representative (despite growing up in a house that was obsessed with rugby league).
Despite her family loving footy and Meg clearly being a talented athlete, her first opportunity to play came only this year when she moved to the Northern Territory and saw a notice that was advertising schoolgirls rugby league.
Similar to Kezie Apps who used to drive five hours to Sydney each week to compete in the Helensburgh competition, Meg drove three hours from her RAAF base to talk to someone about joining a team.
She played five games for the Northern Sharks, represented the NT Titans at the Combined Affiliated States Championships and is now about to represent her country.
Along with teammates Lucy Lockhart (from the Northern Territory) and Maddison Bennett (Western Australia) it is becoming clearer that you do not need to be from New South Wales or Queensland to represent Australia in women’s rugby league.
Along with names like Karyn Murphy, Stephanie Hancock and Ruan Sims, Elliana Walton will always be remembered for longevity.
Elliana was recognised earlier this year with the Karen Foulkes award for her dedication, commitment and outstanding contribution to rugby league in the Canterbury-Bankstown District.
Elliana is a prop/lock and after being selected for the Jillaroos in 2008 is one of the most capped Jillaroos ever, and hopes to continue playing so she can reach a decade of service..
Not only does she represent her country, but she also captain-coaches the Greenacre Tigers in the Sydney Metropolitan Women’s Rugby League competition, has coached her son in the under-7 St George Dragons and also works full time as a support worker for adults with disabilities.
Isabelle Kelly and Zahara Temara
This is a pair to keep your eyes on.
These two women made their debut for the Australian Jillaroos in the Test against the Kiwi Ferns back in May.
Not only did these women make their debut, but each managed to score on debut. Isabelle scored the first try in the 10th minute and then in the 30th minute Zahara also scored to give the Jillaroos a 12-4 lead at half-time.
Both at the start of their careers, they are players who will certainly be part of the next generation of Jillaroos to be long-term Australian representatives.
One final thought
This week I heard Kezie Apps interviewed and she shared that one night, four years ago, she was waiting for ‘The Simpsons’ to come on television and saw that women were competing in the Rugby League World Cup.
That moment changed Kezie’s life and she knew that she wanted to be one of these women.
You can’t be what you can’t see, so do not underestimate the importance of making our Australian Jillaroos visible to the next generation of young women.
I look forward to seeing plenty of you at Southern Cross Group Stadium next Thursday for the opening day of the Women’s World Cup.