This post was first written for and published by NRL.com.
Heading into 2020, Ali Brigginshaw felt trepidation about how busy the year ahead was going to be.
Like all of us, she had no inkling of how it would turn out so different to what she had imagined.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen those best-laid plans go awry but one upside of the upheaval has been the opportunity to spend more time with family and be reminded of what really matters.
Over the past three years, Brigginshaw has become one of the faces of women’s rugby league.
As an Australian Jillaroo, Queensland and two-time NRLW premiership winner at the Brisbane Broncos, she is a role model for the next generation.
But alongside the growth of the women’s game, there has been increased exposure, which has also thrown up challenges.
“In the women’s game, so many of us are so passionate about growing the game that we have gotten into the habit of saying yes to everything and double-booking ourselves,” Brigginshaw said.
“You end up in a situation where you finish work, you go do an interview and then go to training. After that you go home, go to sleep, wake up and go to training again before heading to work.
“Over-committing yourself was a trap I fell into, but then I hit a wall. I had a moment by myself at home and realised things needed to change.”
While the pandemic has certainly given Brigginshaw the opportunity to reset some habits, time away from the game due to injury has also helped.
Brigginshaw has spent the first half of this year rehabbing a serious syndesmosis injury.
Initially, she was told it was just an ankle sprain. In fact, she walked out of the doctor’s office on her own. But after seeing the surgeon the next day, Brigginshaw realised the seriousness of the injury.
“My first thought was this could be it. But I had my first surgery and then my second surgery. After that I got to spend more time at home with my family which took my mind off football.
“Once I realised I could do the recovery and make it back to the field, that was the fire in my tummy to train harder.
“I also realised though that while rugby league is important, so is bringing up kids, having a partner and all those other things. I had to get the balance right because if you’re happy at home you’re happy on the field too.”
Last weekend marked Brigginshaw’s return to the field with the Souths Logan Magpies alongside friends Meg Ward, Annette Brander and Stephanie Hancock.
Before her comeback, Brigginshaw made sure her teammates felt comfortable given she had missed some training sessions and games.
Unsurprisingly, the team welcomed her back with open arms. This, Brigginshaw thinks, is reflective of a broader attitude across the women’s game.
“Whether it is your first or 50th game playing rugby league, there is always a spot for you and a place in the team. That sense of belonging is something women’s footy gives young girls these days,” she said.
“I have never heard of a team that isn’t inclusive of everyone.”
This experience in the Holcim Cup will be invaluable given the pre-season for the Holden Women’s Premiership is due to start in the next couple of weeks.
Mentally, it is going to be tough if we have to self-isolate.
The intention is for the NRLW to be played alongside the men’s finals series, meaning the games will most likely be held in Canberra or Sydney.
This could mean Broncos players would need to self-isolate for the period of the competition and for the New Zealand Warriors, it will mean relocation.
“Mentally, it is going to be tough if we have to self-isolate. I know the men are doing it, but women’s footy is different,” she said.
“Men are used to being in the system. Women are juggling more. For some women who have children, the concept of self-isolating is going to make caring for those kids really hard.”
Relocation brings its own challenges and Brigginshaw said some women would not be able to play “because of family commitments and that’s OK” and the key was to ensure all players were looked after, whether decide to compete or not.
“If someone isn’t playing, let’s give them the support they need because there is probably a really good reason they aren’t playing,” Brigginshaw said.
“It would be so hard to be on the sidelines watching everyone play in the NRLW while you are at home and looking after family because it was too much pressure to come.
“I think the game will look after us, but we have to look at everyone involved and make sure we do it right.”