Maddick ready to tackle NRLW challenge after touch triumphs

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One of the best things about rugby league is the many forms it comes in and the varied opportunity people have to get involved through tackle, touch and tag versions of the sport.

These different versions of rugby league also present another pathway and in the women’s game we have seen many exceptional touch footy players try their hand at the contact version of the game including Tamika Upton, Tarryn Aiken and Maddie Studdon.

‘Cancelling the competition is not an option’: Crunch time for the NRLW

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I certainly wouldn’t want to be a sports administrator right now.

Given the opening and closing of borders, it is becoming increasingly difficult to host competitions and find safe locations to play games.

Players, coaches, staff and family almost need to be ready to relocate at the drop of a hat.

Why we still need Women in League round

This article was first written for and published by the Roar.

When I first started writing about rugby league eight years ago, my goal was to encourage more women to get involved in conversations about the game, but also to promote the women that were visible to me in the game.

At that point, that generally extended to women as fans, women as volunteers, women involved in the media and women involved in the administration.

Crane driver, trail blazer: Lavinia takes path less travelled

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Leading into the 2021 Telstra Women’s Premiership there has been plenty of focus on Brisbane’s ability to retain key talent like rep stars Ali Brigginshaw, Millie Boyle, Tarryn Aiken and Tamika Upton.

One signing that has flown under the radar is Lavinia Gould, who in her fourth season at the club proves that age is no barrier when it comes to playing the sport you love.

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.”