This article was written by Jocelyn Airth.
He plays the ball, 15 metres from the line.
They close in. Numbers build out wide. They’re set to score.
But at the last second, a defending back reads the pass, steals an intercept and sprints 80 metres to cross on the right.
A textbook Josh Addo-Carr try… scored by Kiani Duckett in the U12’s Koori Knockout grand final.
Playing with and against boys, Kiani is one of the many Indigenous women from this year’s Knockout who gave us an exciting sneak peak at the future of women’s rugby league.
And it’s no surprise, considering the growing number role models we have in the game.
Look no further than the Koori Knockout’s victorious Newcastle Yowies side that defeated the Wellington Wedgetails 22 – 6 in the grand final.
Yowies women aged 17 to 42-years-old travelled far and wide, meeting at Dubbo’s Apex Oval, where they would play for more than a trophy.
Prop Sheridan Noble has played for the Yowies in Knockouts since 2012. This year, she took the field for Newcastle alongside her daughter, rising footy star Ngalika Barker.
“It was never about me or us. It’s about representing the people whose names are on our jerseys. It’s about representing our communities, mobs and families,” Sheridan said.
“And having all our sisters there made it so special, we’re all sisters at the end of the day, you walk away with that connection for the rest of your life.”
Sheridan is a passionate rugby league coach, currently training the U16 Indigenous Girls side for the NSWRL Harmony Cup, so she couldn’t help but notice the strong natural ability of the younger girls over the weekend.
“To see some of those young ones running out, scoring tries and matching up with the boys, it’s exciting. You’d love to get your hand on them, develop them and give them encouragement, to say ‘geez you’re deadly!’” the 42-year-old admitted.
Sheridan strongly believes the Koori Knockout is vital to growing women’s rugby league at all levels.
“It promotes women’s rugby league, especially for those girls in the bush that don’t get the opportunity to be seen. This is another platform for people to see natural talent, especially with the commencement of WNRL. Hopefully girls take the opportunity to play in front of their mob and community.”
After representing the Yowies in two Knockouts, fullback Rikka Lamb signed with the South Sydney Rabbitohs in 2018.
“Anyone from the knockout could play in the WNRL or NRL. It’s about putting your mind to it and setting goals. The skill’s there, it’s just a matter of work and commitment,” Rikka revealed.
“We get good coverage, to play on NITV and get that talent showcase is important because a lot of our talent can go unnoticed.”
Rikka also said that participating in the Knockout provides an opportunity learn from strong leaders in her game and community.
“It’s a good time to catch up with friends and family … to play with girls like our captain Lehetta Lane. She’s an inspiration to a lot of us, she’s got three kids, she’s a positive role model.”
17-year-old Amelia Harris played her first big Knockout for the Yowies this year, and is planning on competing in the 2018 Tarsha Gale Cup.
“It was full on, you had to be switched on and focused. I’d never played in front of that many people before. But the girls comforted me and we all came together, supported each other and played for each other” Amelia said.
Yowies team mates Terri Anne Cain and Megan Prince said the quality of women’s footy was at an all-time high.
“It’s the hardest footy you can play. You’ve got the best Indigenous players from NSW and even QLD. So to play against the top Indigenous players and teams in Australia is an honour” Megan said.
“Winning this year was unreal, it’s a moment I’ll never forget. My advice to girls, just give rugby league a go” Terri Anne said.