This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.
For some members of the Warriors women’s team, their journey towards the NRLW will begin this weekend with a flight to Australia.
This flight will mark a 10-week period away from home, where the players will have to complete two separate 14-day quarantine periods either side of the five-week competition.
This journey is just another example of the commitment and sacrifice we have come to associate with women’s rugby league.
But for Georgia Hale, even staring down the barrel of quarantine won’t dampen her spirits about the season ahead.
“The one thing that has kept me going is knowing that there’s footy to look forward to,” Hale said.
“At the start of the year, we didn’t even know if we would take the field, let alone at an NRLW level. So with the announcement and everything happening right now, I’m in a really good place.
“The fact that the NRL saw value in our game and cared about our game and did all they could to see us playing at the back end of the year was a special feeling.
“I was always hopeful, but there was so much uncertainty. The NRL haven’t taken their foot off the throat and have done all that they can to get us over there playing and have the Warriors in the competition.
“It speaks volumes about where our game is and to how hard so many people have worked to get it into this position.”
In a year where the “easy” decision was to reduce investment in women’s sport, the NRL has done the opposite.
While the competition may not grow in length or size in 2020, the focus is certainly on ensuring the players have the support they need.
There are different logistical considerations for the women’s competition than the Telstra Premiership.
While a strict bubble has worked in the men’s competition as they are full-time professionals, for women who need to work to support their families, this scenario would not work.
“Bubble life” is hard for everyone, but for the women who need to relocate, this will mean time away from family and their employment – a significant sacrifice when you’re not a full-time professional athletes.
“We are taking a mother with us. One of our teammates has just gone through a tough time with the passing of a family member just a few days ago. The fact that she wants to come speaks to the passion within our game and what we are willing to do to play,” Hale said.
“There’s lots of sacrifices that our little group have made which will make it more meaningful when we do get to pull on the jersey and play in a couple of weeks.”
They will be guided by Jillaroos coach Brad Donald, which was surprising news to some fans but my view is it was another extraordinary display of the commitment, empathy and care that he has for the women’s game.
Not only has he overseen a period of unprecedented success for the Jillaroos, but there are very few people who have as deep an understanding of the challenges that many of the Warriors women will face when they arrive in Australia.
“It’s hard to say, but Brad is the best coach in the world right now,” Hale jokes.
“He has been around and done a lot and given so much to the women’s game so it is a great opportunity for us to soak up experience and knowledge from him.
“As a player, it is so special to know that he wants to coach us, that he wants to be a part of this campaign and he wants to keep women’s rugby league alive and kicking this year, especially leading into a World Cup year.
“This year more than ever it is so important to have footy that we can all be part of.”
Donald also has plenty of relationships across the women’s game so will no doubt be an effective recruiter for the Warriors who will have spots in their squad to fill.
There’s no doubt, that just like their male counterparts, once the squad is assembled, the Warriors women will hold a special place in the hearts of all footy fans this year.
“We are in a position where we really want to represent our country and represent the Warriors,” Hale said.
“There are also some women who won’t be playing with us this year, like Krystal Rota because of family and work commitments, so we really want to make them proud too.
“But we can’t wait to get out onto the field, play alongside our new teammates and hopefully make the grand final at the end of it.”