This post was first written for and published by NRL.com.
Next time you see Krystal Rota playing for the Manurewa Marlins, for the New Zealand Warriors in the NRLW or representing the Kiwi Ferns, keep an eye on her right leg.
As of last week, Rota has a new addition to her body; another Tā moko which is what we more commonly know as a tattoo. In Maori culture, Tā moko is an artform, an important expression of cultural heritage and identity.
For Rota, her latest Tā moko is about family and the patterns within it link to the tribal areas that she is from in New Zealand. On her paternal grandfather’s side, Rota is from Matatā. On her paternal grandmother’s side she is from the northern part of New Zealand near Cape Reinga.
“Each tribal area has certain patterns which demonstrate where that tribe is from,” Rota said.
“If you have a close look at my Tā moko, it includes the designs from my tribal area and it also carries my siblings, my parents and my children.”
In Maori culture, whanau – or family – is central. So for Rota, this Tā moko means she visibly carries her family with her at all times.
While she draws great strength from her whole family, her children in particular are a constant reminder to her of the power of the female body.
In Rota’s case, that’s a body that has given birth to and raised two children. It is also a body that has played one of the toughest sports in the world.
A sport, that despite its toughness, is one Rota believes is for anyone who wants to play because it caters for all body shapes.
“Rugby league is such an inclusive game because there is a place for everyone,” she said.
“If you are one of the larger women, you are an asset because you are powerful. If you are one of the smaller women you are an asset because you are agile and fast.
“Our game caters for all women at all skill levels and that is one of the things that makes our sport so special.”
While Rota has marvelled at the strength of her teammates and the capacity of the female body to be fast, strong and powerful, giving birth to her two children has also given her a different perspective.
“I train a couple of women at the moment, and some of them are mums. Theirs goals always tend to be about weight loss and a focus on changing the parts of their bodies that they don’t like,” Rota said.
“People don’t like to look in the mirror and see fat, or scars or stretch marks.
“But in focusing on these negatives, many women forget what their bodies have been through and the capabilities of their body.
“Many of these women have carried babies and the stretch marks on their bodies are a reflection of that. These marks should be a source of pride, not shame.”
But sometimes it’s hard to practise what you preach.
Over the years, Rota has also had her own challenges with her body just as most women have.
At a recent photo shoot which she attended with one of her friends she was struck at how confident her friend was with her body just as it was, even though she had a completely different body shape to Rota’s.
“It was an empowering photo shoot to see my friend with such confidence. It also just reinforced to me the insecurities that women often carry,” Rota said.
“It shouldn’t be like that. Women should be proud that they can give birth, nurture a baby and do many other things all at the same time.”
The power of a woman’s body is becoming increasingly visible in the Telstra Women’s Premiership.
As fans we have revelled in the growth of the women’s game over the last five years. We have all enjoyed watching the skill level of the participants improve and have great hopes for what the competition can achieve in the next five years.
When the competition first began, a common theme was women who were also mums playing in the NRLW. Players like Chelsea Baker, Kylie Hilder and Rebecca Young spent most of their footy careers juggling their footy and parenting responsibilities.
In the case of Lorina Papali’i, she was competing in the NRLW while her son Isaiah was playing in the NRL.
But one of the next stages of the game’s development is providing the support and “return to play” strategy for women who decide to give birth during their rugby league careers.
Sam Bremner is one such player. Bremner gave birth to son Reef in 2019 and made a successful return to the Australian Jillaroos and St George Illawarra Dragons in 2020.
For Rota, players like Bremner are an inspiration.
“Playing rugby league after having a baby is amazing in itself,” she said.
“Seeing these women return to the game is just another demonstration of how strong, capable and powerful women are.”