Each week as rugby league fans we are lucky enough to watch some of the most talented athletes in our country pull on jerseys for our respective teams and compete in the best rugby league competition in the world. From hard hitting defence, to spectacular tries, to characters on and off the field, our game truly has it all and we are reminded of how talented our athletes are week in, week out.
Women in League round is an opportunity to recognise the role that women play at all levels of the game. Women’s roles as mums, cheerleaders, volunteers, administrators, fans and NRL employees ensure that we continue to be treated to the best rugby league competition in the world every single week. From women involved in the administration of our game, to women involved at a grassroots level – women and their contribution to rugby league are worth celebrating, not just this week, but every week.
A group that often goes unnoticed are the families of our players. These families are often the ones that deal with many of the pressures associated with being part of a family which includes a professional athlete including heavy training schedules, injuries, travel commitments and the tremendous highs and earth-shattering lows that winning and losing brings.
These women are also part of the rugby league family and are worth celebrating.
Today, I want to introduce you all to Sonia Lewis, advocate for women in league and wife of current Cronulla Sharks player, Luke Lewis. I caught up with Sonia last week to hear about the big changes to the Lewis household in 2016, the Cronulla Sharks and their march to the Finals and about how Women in League round has changed over the last decade.
Despite not knowing each other as they were growing up, Sonia and Luke were born and raised in Blacktown, in Sydney’s Western Suburbs. Sonia grew up in an Italian family and was heavily involved in Little Athletics as a high jumper for 16 several years.
After finishing school, Sonia worked in several jobs including for St George Bank for 12 years and has also worked as a fully qualified beauty therapist before spending 2015 as on-field and Chairman’s Lounge MC for the Cronulla Sharks for 2015.
As mentioned, when she was younger, Sonia was heavily involved in Little Athletics and did not follow rugby league. Her earliest memory of rugby league, much like most of us, revolves around family. Sonia remembers her dad watching State of Origin and following the Parramatta Eels.
When Sonia’s dad migrated to Australia from Italy and settled in Blacktown, Parramatta was the only team in the region which had a rugby league team. This was years before the Penrith Panthers had a team and meant that Sonia’s dad adopted the blue and gold.
Despite adopting the blue and gold, when Sonia and Luke started dating when they were 19 and 20 years old, respectively, this started a lifelong habit for Sonia’s dad in following Luke’s career. Wherever Luke went, so did Sonia’s dad’s allegiance – this meant that whilst the Eels came first, during his life he also had soft spots for the Penrith Panthers and later for the Cronulla Sharks.
Luke’s early career…
It was only after Sonia and Luke started dating that Sonia went to her first rugby league game in 2004. The game was completely new to her at that point and over time, not only has she followed Luke through the highs and lows of his career, but she has also learnt the rules and increasingly fallen in love with the game.
Over the years, Sonia has watched Luke achieve his rugby league dreams and her favourite memories and moments revolve around Luke and his selection for representative teams. Sonia has drawn great joy from being able to see Luke compete at the highest level of the game and not only represent several clubs, his State and also his country.
Why don’t you put a jersey on?
As I have increasingly become involved in the game of rugby league, one things I have found very challenging is to watch my favourite players get injured and watching my favourite players get criticised by fans of opposition teams, but also their own fans.
This, of course, is even harder when you are the wife of a player and Sonia admits to sometimes even having told people to try putting on a jersey for themselves.
We need to remember that our players are human too and whilst it is their job to perform on the field, it is not their job to win. When players are accused of not trying, it flies in the face of the dedication that they have to ensuring their bodies are in peak physical condition and that they are mentally fit to play what is a very tough and grueling game.
And whilst there is a perception that players are paid handsomely, the reality is that the big salaries are only reserved for the most talented of players all in a profession where your career could be cut short at any moment. According to Luke, ‘you are only one tackle away from flipping burgers’.
The Sharks and 2016
What is the secret behind the Sharks success this year?
Earlier this year Sonia and Luke welcomed their first child, a beautiful baby girl named Hazel. At the time of recording the podcast, since Hazel had been born the Sharks had not lost a game. There are rumours circling the Shire that Hazel Lewis is indeed their lucky charm. Hopefully she has a Grand Final ticket already!
There is a very special feeling around the Shire and around the Club at the moment and this is in stark contrast to the Club Luke arrived at 2 years ago amidst the ASADA scandal.
Behind CEO Lyall Gorman the Sharks have transformed in front of Sonia’s eyes. In her words, it is a family Club and Sonia has had the opportunity to develop a close bond with the families of the other players.
Living with Luke
A neat freak! High maintenance. Loves a clean and tidy house.
But the biggest change in the Lewis household has involved the arrival of Hazel Lewis in April this year. When speaking about Hazel, Sonia’s face absolutely lights up and she describes the delight and the joy that Hazel has brought into both hers and Luke’s life.
Growing up, Luke was without a dad and had some concerns when Sonia was pregnant about his ability to be a dad. But according to Sonia, Luke has embraced fatherhood with open arms, is an outstanding dad and Hazel has already managed to have her dad wrapped around her little finger.
Luke is always excited to come home to Hazel and each new stage is bringing something different. Now when Luke comes home, he comes home to a babbling baby that wants to tell dad all about her day.
Sonia and helping others
Sonia is truly one of the most delightful humans I have met in rugby league. I first met Sonia years ago through Women in League round and she is someone that I am truly honoured to call a friend.
She is someone that everyone describes as a woman that truly cares about others and is willing to do anything to help other people.
This has been demonstrated throughout her years in rugby league, particularly after getting involved with Women in League round initially through Diane Langmack at the Penrith Panthers. Sonia is always first to put her hand up to help with an event, whether it be selling raffle tickets, setting up or packing up – she genuinely loves to help people.
When I asked Sonia to appear on the podcast, without a moments hesitation, Sonia jumped at the opportunity and again demonstrated to me that she will do just about anything to help others.
Away from rugby league, Sonia and Luke are both heavily involved in White Ribbon and are also ambassadors for Zambi Wildlife Retreat which is an organization which seeks to rescue, rehabilitate, re-home and give shelter to injured and sick animals. In Sonia’s words the organisation helps to find ‘a forever home’ for animals. This is a cause very close to both Sonia and Luke’s hearts as they are both animal lovers.
In a fundraiser organized by Luke and Sonia, over $80,000 was raised for Zambi Wildlife Retreat.
The Beauty Bank
Sonia’s joy at helping others shines through in all that she does. Not only does Sonia like to help people, but the Sharks as a Club like to help people as well.
A good example of this was the Sharks support of a charity called The Beauty Bank during Women in League round. The logo of the Beauty Bank featured on the Sharks Women in League round jersey and, 50% of the profits from the Sharks Women in League event went to The Beauty Bank.
The Beauty Bank is an organization founded by Jen Armstrong. Jen was in an abusive relationship when she was younger. After leaving her violent husband with nothing but her 10 month daughter, Jen found herself six months pregnant and with very few possessions.
After being given an anonymous gift of some body wash, Jen took a bath. She used the body wash which made her feel appreciated and luxurious and that’s where the idea for The Beauty Bank arose. That small gift inspired Jen and reminded her never to give up.
Today, Jen has three children two diplomas and is studying at university. The Beauty Bank has become a thriving organization which seeks to take donations and give people ‘life’s little luxuries’. From body wash, to perfume, to soap – The Beauty Bank is all about ensuring that no person should go without items which many of us take for granted in maintaining our personal hygiene.
Jen was an intern at the Cronulla Sharks and now works at the Club.
Women in League: worth celebrating
For Sonia, Women in League round has grown significantly over the last 10 years and gives the rugby league family the opportunity to celebrate all the women in our game that make it so great.
Sonia is indeed one of these women.
Ladies who League xxx