This article was first written for and published for The Roar.
Leading Seaman Shannon Evans grew up in Newcastle and has supported the Knights for as long as she can remember. With a couple of older cousins and a younger brother, weekends were spent going to the park and kicking the footy around.
It wasn’t until Shannon was 13 and asked to join the school team that she learnt that women could also play rugby league.
“That was my first real taste of ‘this could happen’, I was so excited and passionate about the opportunity to play,” Shannon said.
A lack of female competitions in her area saw Shannon briefly give the game away, but she returned as an 18-year-old playing for the Maitland Women’s team in Newcastle.
At age 19 she joined the Navy, looking for a career which required teamwork and fitness. As a Navy Physical Training Instructor she gets to spend her days ensuring her team is strong and performing at its best.
“The Navy, Army and Air Force offer career paths that value-adds to our game, our lives and our potential,” Shannon said.
Fellow ADF members Meg Ward and Talesha Quinn have progressed through the ADF rugby league pathway all the way to wearing the green and gold of their country.
These talented women have certainly inspired Shannon, particularly Meg, who she met at an ADF training camp last year.
“We were training and we dropped the ball a few times. We were up to our sixth set in a row on the line in training and I turned around and Meg, who was playing fullback, said ‘Yes how good is this, we get to defend again’. I thought ‘where did she come from?’
“She is such a kind, positive woman to be around and her motivation for the game, you see it on the field. Meg wears her heart on the field. I feel privileged not just to play alongside her but to call her a friend.”
Throughout the year the Navy, Army and Air Force teams play one another before the best players across all three Services are selected play in the ADF Rugby League team which competes in the National Championships.
It is also a career that enables competition with other nations. There are talks of a South Pacific tour coming up where the ADF team is hoping to travel to Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.
For Shannon, the most exciting part of being involved in rugby league is watching the next generation of young women coming through.
“I enjoy seeing the young girls,16, 17 and 18, who are coming through with so much raw talent and passion for the game. It is an exciting time to know the game will continue to grow,” she said.
“And to see so many little boys and girls hanging over the fence at the National Championships waiting to get photos and autographs is a positive indication of how things are changing.
“You see kids in the men’s game waiting for photos all the time and you expect it but to see that in the women’s game and to be on the field and see the supporters is an incredible feeling. The support means the world to the players.”
One of the biggest challenges for men and women who play elite sport, is the requirement to juggle work and sporting commitments. The ADF supports several members to manage their service obligations while enabling them to play the game they love.
“I have been in training camps where women have to travel and take leave,” Shannon said.
“I am very fortunate to have a career that supports me. We see a lot of females struggling to be able to juggle work/life balance but we are so supported by the ADF to do that.”