Meet the latest code-hopper to ignite the NRLW

This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.

The thrilling debuts from Charlotte Caslick and Ellia Green in round one of the Telstra Women’s Premiership made the rugby sevens code-hoppers the talk of footy fans.

Another code-hopper is set to make her debut this weekend for the Roosters and she is determined to keep the good times rolling.

Grace Hamilton is one of Australia’s best rugby union players. She grew up in a rugby union family but only began playing while on a university exchange in the US.

She was first selected to play for the Wallaroos in 2016, was named captain in 2019 and has won two premierships with the NSW Waratahs in the Super W.

But so far her 2020 has not gone as planned.

The Wallaroos were scheduled to have nine Test matches this year against five different countries in preparation for the 2021 Rugby World Cup. Those were all cancelled due to COVID-19.

With no international rugby on the cards for the Wallaroos and the Super W likely to be postponed till later next year to better align with the Rugby World Cup, Hamilton has the chance to compete in the NRLW.

It’s an idea she’d been toying with for a couple of years.

“I have been approached before to play in the competition, but I never had the time because of my rugby commitments,” said Hamilton.

“But with everything that has happened this year, I realised that this would be my chance and said ‘why not’.”

While switching from rugby union to league might be a bit daunting, Hamilton has found it easier given that she has played with many of her teammates before, whether in 15-a-side rugby or in sevens.

Given the lack of pathways available when Hamilton was younger, many female athletes dabbled in a number of sports including sevens, rugby union, rugby league and touch footy.

Despite both Caslick and Hamilton coming from rugby, it will be the NRLW which gives the two women their first opportunity to play in a team together.

“We’ve never actually been in the same team together, but we have played against each other,” said Hamilton.

“Playing for the same team was something we talked about before we signed and we wondered whether we should do it, but it has been exciting for us and we are loving the new environment.”

What has been so pleasing about the response to code-hoppers like Hamilton, Caslick and Green joining the competition is that their participation has largely been met with excitement.

“Code-wars” may be an emotive term used in the media, but when it comes to women’s sport the approach seems to be one of complete support, particularly if it gives athletes the opportunity to learn new skills, form new friendships and earn some money.

For Hamilton, this support is something that sets women’s sport apart.

“For us, there is no point in women’s sports being against each other,” said Hamilton.

“We all need to get around each other and be supportive of each other, regardless of what code or sport you play.

“It is a community we need to bring together rather than separate and that community is one of the reasons women’s sport is going from strength to strength.”

While there is plenty of similarity between rugby league and union, Hamilton has been given a couple of things to focus on by coach Jamie Feeney heading into her debut against the Warriors.

“I’m still getting used to some of the calls, but I am really focusing on not overdoing my job,” said Hamilton.

“I’ve been told that I do too much and I want to take that advice on. Other than that, it is quite similar, especially in the structures you play. Getting back 10 is also a bit different.”

Should Hamilton remain in the game day 17 for round three, that will hold extra significance as it will see her come up against her friend and Wallaroos teammate Millie Boyle.

“It’s going to be so funny, if I get selected,” said Hamilton.

“It’ll be a bit weird coming up against her, because she was trying to convince me to come up and play at the Broncos.

“I’ve had to play against her before in the Super W but playing against my friends definitely brings out my competitive side.

“I’m looking forward to it already.”