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 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.