This article was first written for NRL.com.
I first met Talesha Quinn in June 2017 when she appeared on the Ladies who League podcast. We made contact via Twitter where I had followed her after seeing her represent the NSW Blues in the women’s interstate challenge. At that point she had fewer than 150 followers on Twitter.
When Talesha came into the studio she mentioned she was a bit worried about appearing on the show because when she got nervous she had a minor stutter. Unsurprisingly, once we began recording she nailed it and passionately shared her rugby league journey – one which involved her moving from Queensland to the Sutherland Shire to pursue her dream with the Cronulla Sharks nines team.
One year later, Talesha is one of the most recognisable faces in St George Illawarra’s Holden Women’s Premiership team, she has won a World Cup with the Australian Jillaroos, represented the Blues in the inaugural Women’s State of Origin and now speaks confidently in front of the media whether on radio, on podcasts or on camera.
Maddie Studdon I have known for much longer. Before I met her I already knew her (and idolised her) as a talented halfback. When I first became aware of Maddie she was one of the younger members of the Jillaroos squad and I knew her journey was just beginning.
Maddie’s first appearance on the Ladies who League podcast was in 2016 after her dad had made a passing comment to a friend of mine that his daughter needed a bit more media training. After meeting Maddie, I remember thinking she is kind, passionate and knowledgeable about sport so with a bit of media training she will go a long way. Maddie really has come a long way.
Today, she regularly appears on panels, on radio and on television. Her name will forever be carved in history as the first NSW Origin-winning women’s captain. It was the first time the NSW men’s and women’s teams had claimed each trophy over Queensland in the same year. Maddie also attended NSW Parliament this year with Boyd Cordner to present the two trophies.
Now, little girls and boys call Maddie their hero and write her letters asking her questions so they can do school assignments on her. On Saturday, a new chapter will begin for her when she runs out with the Sydney Roosters in the opening game of the NRLW when they take on the New Zealand Warriors.
Kezie Apps is relatively new to the game of rugby league but in a short time has made a significant impact. She returned to rugby league in 2014 to play for the Helensburgh Tigers along with Sammy Bremner and Maddie Studdon. In 2016 she won the NSW Blues and Dally M women’s player of the year awards, has also represented the Jillaroos and on Sunday, she will pull on the Red V jersey for the first time alongside her self-proclaimed twin, Talesha Quinn.
The thing about Kezie is you could say she is playing rugby league by chance. Kezie just so happened to be sitting on her couch home in Bega one night watching The Simpsons when an ad came up for the upcoming news instalment with a story about the Jillaroos who had just won the World Cup. Kezie didn’t know women could play rugby league for their country until that point. From then, she hasn’t looked back and for that, footy fans are all exceptionally grateful.
I share these stories because history will be made when the inaugural women’s NRL competition begins.
Each woman representing one of the four inaugural teams has her own story. For so many of these women, they thought that pulling on the jersey of an NRL club was just a dream. Very few of them believed we would actually get there.
But we have got there.
While this weekend is significant for the players and for our game, when those women take the field it will be for so many of us.
It will be for NRL referee Kasey Badger who had to give up playing rugby league because she was a woman and instead decided to referee instead. It will be for the likes of Tarsha Gale and Karyn Murphy who were part of a Jillaroos squad that received such little financial support that women were selling their cars so they could afford to represent their country.
It will be for mums like Dawn Apps who drove with her daughter Kezie to and from Bega for many hours every weekend so she could play for Helensburgh. It will be for women like Maria Hammond whose daughter Sammy Bremner will captain the Dragons.
It will be for little girls like Amaya Clarke who is five years old and in her first year of rugby league for Morpeth with heroes like Caitlin Moran, Isabelle Kelly and Rebecca Young.
It will be for women like me who have watched these amazing women juggle university, families and full-time jobs just so they can play the game they love.
But most of all it is for the future so little girls and little boys will grow up knowing and understanding that men and women play footy. That will just be the way it is.
I’ll be in the stands at ANZ Stadium on Saturday when history is made. Where will you be?