Culture club: Broncos NRLW loyalty not all about winning

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Expansion and the lure of more money elsewhere should threaten Brisbane’s NRLW dynasty after three straight premierships but the loyalty of their players is overcoming those obstacles.

The Broncos have dominated the Telstra Women’s Premiership, losing just one game since the competition started in 2018 on the way to a trifecta of titles.

Why are NRL players STILL being shut out of the biggest decisions?

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Two years ago, I decided I would travel to the United Kingdom for the Rugby League World Cup in 2021. At the start of this year, I accepted that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that that would no longer be a possibility.

But last week when it was announced that Australia and New Zealand would not be competing, it left me feeling flat.

Part of me understands the decision. The world is an uncertain place at the moment and player safety and the mental health of athletes is absolutely paramount.

Game changer: Why Nines lives in Amy’s memory

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When England International Amy Hardcastle travelled to Australia in 2019 to play in the World Cup Nines, little did she know that she would be participating in a tournament which would be a new benchmark for women’s rugby league.

The Nines was completely integrated, with the men and women playing at the same venue, Bankwest Stadium, over two days.

“That changed me because from that moment on, I could not accept anything less.

“Once I had experienced being on equal ground, I wanted that to continue because I give everything I can to play the game that I love and it is what we deserve.

“If Australia can do it, why can’t we?”

Amy Hardcastle is congratulated after scoring for Saints in the Challenge Cup final.
Amy Hardcastle is congratulated after scoring for Saints in the Challenge Cup final.

When Hardcastle saw the way that the women’s game was being celebrated and promoted in Australia it made her contemplate what was possible back home.

Since the Nines, Hardcastle has changed Super League clubs and now plays for St Helens.

It has been a history-making season for the Saints, with the men’s and women’s teams both tasting Challenge Cup glory – and what better way to celebrate than with a double celebration with a double-decker bus tour through the city.

The men were on the first bus and the women were on the second and as the buses drove through the entire postcode of St Helens, Hardcastle was amazed by the number of fans waiting to greet them.

“I was absolutely overwhelmed and it will probably be one of my favourite memories I’ll ever have,” said Hardcastle.

“There were hundreds of people stacked through the streets, singing at you, wanting to celebrate you and just cheering for the women’s team.

“People were acknowledging us and telling us how proud we had made them. It’s huge for us because going forward we want the game to continue to grow so that the next generation have something to aspire to.”

Each of these clubs will be integrating new teams into well-established environments and for Hardcastle, what she has learnt from her experience at St Helens is how important it is to do this integration with care, empathy and respect.

When a new team is introduced properly and made to feel welcome, the club feels like a family and establishes an environment where the women’s team is empowered to succeed on and off the field.

For Hardcastle it means the women’s team being given the opportunity to use the same facilities as the men. It means feeling like the club and its supporters have given the women’s team complete support.

And then there’s the little things.

“It sounds silly, but going to games on a good bus with the rest of the team, which means I don’t need to worry about transportation to and from the game,” she said.

“It’s about feeling like a professional and having other parts of the process looked after so that I can focus on my game.”

Then there were the symbolic touches by the club before and after the Challenge Cup final.

“After the semi-final, the club had one-off jerseys made for us for the Final and that was really special,” said Hardcastle.

“Then after we won the final, they honoured us by placing a reminder of that win in the tunnel, next to all the successes of the men’s team.

“That has never happened before and it means that this women’s team will forever be up there alongside the men’s team in the tunnel.”

The Australian women in sport movement has also taken significant strides over the last five years and there have been many sports who have courageously stepped forward to set a new benchmark.

Hardcastle saw that with the World Nines.

I experienced it at the Nines and also on March 8, 2020 when a world record crowd of 86,174 descended on the MCG for the ICC T20 Women’s World Cup final between Australia and India.

With several global events coming to Australia in the next couple of years, including the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in 2022 and the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023, our sports continue to get the opportunity to raise the bar and set new benchmarks for women’s sport.

Perhaps we will have that global opportunity in 2032, with Brisbane being named as the host of the Olympic Games.

West is best: Parramatta return couldn’t be sweeter for Nita

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When a coach makes an approach to a player to join a Telstra Women’s Premiership team, apparently there are three questions that always get asked.

Who else is playing for the team? Who is the coach? Where are you training?

Fortunately, when Parramatta made an approach to Kiwi Ferns international Nita Maynard to join their inaugural team, they had the right answers.

“I’ve played alongside Simaima Taufa for a couple of years now and my best friend Botille Vette-Welsh is also playing for Parramatta.

“The Eels have also signed a really strong pack with the likes of Kennedy Cherrington and Filomena Hanisi and as a dummy-half, you always want to play behind a good pack.”

The Eels have focused on recruiting women who have a connection with Sydney’s west – bringing them home to play for a club that represents the local area.

While Maynard has spent the last couple of years in the east and has played with the Sydney Roosters since 2018, when she first came over to Australia in 2011 she spent a lot of time playing alongside Taufa for the Parramatta Two Blues.

“That’s how far back my connection with Maima goes and that’s how long I have felt a connection to Parramatta,” she said.

“A lot of people are thrilled to see me return to the west. We have a great group with a strong mix of new talent and some experienced players. I can’t wait to see how we all gel together and I’m hoping we get into the training bubble next week.”

Over the years, Maynard has demonstrated she is an undoubtedly talented athlete – in 2014 she played for the Australian Wallaroos and in 2016 she also represented Australia in sevens rugby.

Because of this long association with sport, she has had the opportunity to play alongside the likes of Vette-Welsh and Taufa and watch as these women have developed their game and their leadership skills.

“I always knew how much talent she has and it’s so good to see her finally getting the recognition she deserves.

“I always knew she had it in her to be the player that she is and she is still developing which is really exciting.”

As for Taufa, when Maynard first met her, she was extremely shy. But the opportunities that Taufa has received through women’s footy, particularly when she worked for the Roosters in the wellbeing space has seen her develop as a player and a leader.

“I remember seeing her presenting about three years ago and my first thought was ‘where did this Maima come from?’. Watching her develop into a leader and a role model for the next generation of players has been really exciting.”

With two new teams entering the NRLW and many of the former New Zealand Warriors opting to play for new teams, Maynard thinks this will be the best Telstra Women’s Premiership season.

“There will be more games this year so all the squads have a bit more time to settle which is important,” she said.

“Because there are more spots, you are also going to see all these new names popping up that have made a conscious choice to develop their careers in rugby league.”

Maynard’s career hit a hurdle in April after she was involved in an off-field incident. She was fined $2800 after she pleaded guilty to failing to leave the premises when required and two charges of common assault for an incident involving two security guards at a Cronulla pub.

    As she reaches the final years of her career, she is keen to make the most of her remaining time in the game to help grow the sport for the next generation of players.

    “So many people with opinions about the women’s game don’t realise what it takes. You have to play like you are a full-time athlete while juggling parenting, a job or studies. You don’t just get to be a full-time athlete.”

    Maynard has an eight-year-old daughter who is her biggest fan and has been playing rugby league since she was four.

    “Not only have I watched the elite game develop, but I have also seen the changes at a grassroots level.

    “I am so excited to see what this next generation can achieve and the opportunities that they have that weren’t available when I was growing up.”

    Curtain’s pathway reveals a window into NRLW’s future

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    Emily Curtain started playing rugby league alongside her twin sister Sophie when they were in primary school.

    Now she is set to be signed by Parramatta as part of their inaugural Telstra Women’s Premiership team and is an example of the next generation of women who have benefitted from the introduction of improved female pathways in NSW.

    The NRLW is already of such a high quality and the women who play are strong, physical and athletic. But imagine what this next generation can achieve with an unbroken pathway?

    From under 8s until under 12s, the Curtain twins played for Eagle Vale St Andrews. Like many women of their generation, when they reached age 12, they thought they would have to stop playing footy.

    But there was an alternative solution – find a girls team.

    In response to the lack of opportunity for girls to play footy, the twins’ coach at the time, Shannon Dengate decided to take matters into his own hands and started a competition for girls in Western Sydney.

    Emily and Sophie Curtain represented NSW under 18s in 2019.
    Emily and Sophie Curtain represented NSW under 18s in 2019.©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

    From small beginnings that competition has continued to grow and now the girls playing in that competition have the opportunity to play against Penrith and Cronulla.

    Fortunately, the Curtain twins have also continued to play rugby league and both women have played for the Wests Tigers and progressed through the Tarsha Gale Cup, the Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership and now for Emily, progression into the NRLW.

    “It shows that there is a pathway for young girls to come through,” Emily said.

    “It means those young girls aren’t always thinking about where they will play after they turn 12.

    Young girls aren’t always thinking about where they will play after they turn 12.

    Emily Curtain

    “NSW have helped create these competitions and it means that these young girls have something to look forward to and to continue to aspire to.”

    The real joy of this progression is that initially, the twins played purely because they loved footy and wanted to be physically active with their friends.

    At that point they were unaware Australia had a women’s rugby league team.

    “I didn’t know that women were playing at a more elite level. We played because the boys played and we wanted to play too.

    “It wasn’t until two or three years after we played with the girls that we found out about the Tigers’ Tarsha Gale team.

    “Three-quarters of the team ended up being made up of girls from my school.”

    The progression of women like Curtain into the NRLW is exciting because we will now begin to see women at the elite level who have had the benefit of a complete pathway.

    When Curtain received the call from Eels NRLW manager Andy Patmore, she was absolutely thrilled. So were her family.

    “Getting this opportunity is a once in a lifetime, so you have to take the opportunity with both hands and show people why you deserve the position you have been put in,” she said.

    “Andy told me that he was happy with how I played for the Tigers this year and that they really liked my long-distance kicking, so that gives me some confidence heading into the season.”

    Emily Curtain on the charge for the Wests Tigers.
    Emily Curtain on the charge for the Wests Tigers.©

    Curtain will be part of a squad already boasting some of the most talented players in the NRLW, including Simaima Taufa, Kennedy Cherrington and Tiana Penitani.

    Nita Maynard and Rikeya Horne have also been added to the growing squad along with Curtain’s captain from the Wests Tigers’ Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership team, Botille Vette-Welsh.

    “I’ve been playing with Bo for the last two seasons so I am looking forward to playing alongside her in the big arena.

    “She is an exceptional leader and does so much for all of us at the Tigers. Bo is always organising things for us off the field, but on the field she always encourages us and is so focused on helping us get to where we want to be.”

    But my biggest question for Curtain is whether signing with the Eels will make her a Parramatta fan due to her conflicted loyalties, given she already plays for the Tigers in the NSW Women’s Premiership.

    Her response was a firm no. “Definitely not, not a chance,” she said.

    Curtain is actually a lifelong St George Illawarra supporter and despite being the cousin of former Eels forward Mitchell Allgood, she assures me that her loyalties will not shift.

    “But I am so excited about playing in the NRLW and so grateful for the opportunity,” she said. “I want to learn new things, progress my game and take the next step.”

    ‘Culture of entitled men’: How Dragons can make this right

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    Yesterday it was confirmed by the Dragons that prop Paul Vaughan would be sacked following a party at his home on the weekend, which broke COVID-19 regulations.

    Plenty has been written on this topic so far, but I decided to pen this because of how angry this breach and the behaviour of those involved has made me.

    The decision by Vaughan to host this party and of the other players to attend speaks of a culture of entitled men, who not only think that they are above NRL rules but also rules imposed by the NSW Government.

    Karina couldn’t be keener to start new era on the Gold Coast

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    Karina Brown thought 2020 would be hard to top, but 2021 is now proving to be one of her best years yet with the month of June full of success and capped off with exciting news.

    “It started off with the Burleigh Bears’ premiership, then winning State of Origin last Friday night and now being signed by the Gold Coast Titans.

    “I felt like I had a really great 2020 too – I won the premiership with Burleigh, won State of Origin and then played NRLW with the Warriors.

    “This year feels like 2020 all over again.”

    Player, coach, role model: Kylie keeps blazing the trail

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    In November 2020, Kylie Hilder was pulling on a sky blue jersey to represent her state in the annual State of Origin fixture. Seven months later, Hilder finds herself calling the shots as coach of the NSW Blues women in their game against Queensland.

    It has been quite the journey for the 45-year-old, who has devoted a decade to the game since switching from a successful Touch Football career.