This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.
I want to introduce you all to two incredible women. Sophie and Emily Curtain are twins from Sydney’s west who represent the next generation of women playing rugby league.
Sophie first started playing rugby league 11 years ago at age seven. When she picked up a footy competitively for the first time, it wasn’t something she had thought deeply about.
But she had an older brother who had played footy for a year, so when he went to sign up for his next season, Sophie signed up too.
Her twin sister Emily has a similar story. Emily started playing footy when she was nine because her sister and brother were playing. She wanted to start a year earlier but unfortunately injury got in the way.
Both girls have played ever since.
This is an uncommon experience for most other girls the same age as Emily and Sophie, because before the pathways that exist now were not established.
Many girls would reach age 12 and stop playing rugby league because that was their only choice (other than playing with the boys). Initially that’s what Sophie and Emily thought would happen to them.
“I played with the boys from under 8s until under 12s for Eagle Vale St Andrews. When I reached age 12, I thought I would have to stop playing with the boys, but my coach insisted that he didn’t want to see ‘talent go to waste’,” says Sophie.
In response, the man that was coaching Sophie and Emily at the time, Shannon Dengate decided he would develop a girls competition in Western Sydney.
From small beginnings that competition has continued to grow and now the girls playing in that competition have the opportunity to play against Penrith and Cronulla.
For Sophie, those years of playing with the boys made her rugby league experience more special.
“For most of the girls that play now, that have only been playing for a year or two, they don’t fully understand what it was like before the pathways were established. There was nothing to look forward to. When I was 12, I thought I would never play rugby league again,” says Sophie.
In response to that sobering thought, the 12-year-old girls took up a martial art to replace their footy. They began Muay Thai within a week of each other and have trained almost every day since.
Incredibly, not only are these two young women the future when it comes to rugby league, but they are also Muay Thai champions.
Sophie had her first fight at the nationals in 2014. She has had 25 fights and won 21 of those. She is also a three-time world champion and has won four Australian championships.
Emily has also won four Australian championships and is a two-time world champion.
Fortunately the two sisters have never had to compete against each other because they ensure they compete in different weight divisions. They have also continued playing rugby league.
Sophie and Emily are part of the next generation of women who can aspire to play rugby league at an elite level.
The Tarsha Gale under 18s competition was introduced three years ago. In its first year, Sophie and Emily were too young to compete, but they tried out and played for the Wests Tigers in the competition’s second year and backed up again in 2019.
The Tigers were one of the most improved teams in 2018, making the major semi-final, and I have no doubt Sophie and Emily contributed significantly to the team’s success.
Even though the competition ended a month ago, footy is not over for the talented twins who are now training with the Wests Tigers’ Harvey Norman women’s team.
They both made their debut on the weekend and were presented their jerseys by their very proud father, Matt.
The twins didn’t say as much, but I got the feeling they are quite competitive. Apparently on the weekend Emily scored the Wests Tigers’ opening try. In response, Sophie joked “great, now I have to score a try too”.
But the twins have dreams much bigger than playing in the Harvey Norman women’s competition and these dreams are increasingly becoming a reality, particularly with the announcement a couple of weeks ago that before the Women’s State of Origin this year, there will also be an under 18s interstate game.
At the moment, Sophie and Emily are part of the NSW under-18 Origin squad which trains alongside the women’s team.
Their joy is infections. Emily says: “To see that team a couple of metres away from us when we have only seen them on television is amazing. They have no idea who we are, what team we support or what’s we’ve gone through, but seeing them literally two metres away and knowing there is a possibility that we could be playing with them in a couple of years is amazing.”
When I speak to Sophie and Emily, it is at 8pm on a Tuesday night. We have to chat at this time because on most days, the twins have strength and conditioning training early in the morning, then go to school, head straight to Muay Thai and then home to do their homework.
With dedication like that and the talent they possess, I have a feeling they might be on field with the likes of Sammy Bremner, Kezie Apps and Talesha Quinn sooner than what they think, particularly since they also aspire to play with the St George Illawarra Dragons in the NRL Holden Women’s Premiership.