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My love of the great game started when I was knee high to a grasshopper. I’d perch up next to Dad on the couch and we would watch the footy together. Dad was my hero and at times, when the game wasn’t going our way, he’d get a little vocal. When Dad shouted at the television, so would I. This usually resulted in Mum washing our mouths out with soap.

Imperial Leather does not leave a good aftertaste! Before I go any further I must point out that I am a born-and-bred Queenslander. One of the proudest you will ever come across.

My school days were primarily focused around lunch time, where we’d all assemble down at the oval and get picked in teams. This is when my mates and I would attempt to put into action the things we’d seen our favourite footy players do over the weekend. Thinking back, there probably wasn’t all that much skill involved – and rules were very loose to say the least – but we thought we were carving up with the best of them!

Every afternoon was spent practicing. I didn’t have any brothers and both my sisters preferred playing inside with dolls, so I’d tip the trampoline on its side and pass the ball into the black netting until it was time to have tea. I desperately wanted to play club footy with the boys but being on the small side, Mum decided it wasn’t such a good idea. Instead she signed me on to play club soccer for Coalstars in Ipswich. 

Being the only female in the competition was great. It didn’t worry me when boys from other teams would say nasty things to me. I’d just run at them as hard as I could when they were in possession of the ball and use my shoulder on them the same way we did on the oval at school. It was very, very fun.

Much of my time as a teenager was spent at Lang Park, watching my beloved Broncos. I still think it’s the best footy stadium in Australia. There’s nothing more exciting than sitting in the Cauldron for State of Origin when the Queensland team runs out onto the field. It makes every little hair on the back of my neck stand up and my heart feel like it’s racing at 1000 beats per minute… give or take a few.

After finishing school, I went to work as a station hand on a cattle property in the Northern Territory. It was so remote, we didn’t have mail, radio, internet or TV. I went close to two years without watching a single game of footy. Luckily, Dad would call me and give me running commentary of Broncos and Origin games. Being so far away from everything and everyone meant I had a lot of time to think. This is when I decided I would give journalism a go. It was something I had always aspired to do.

As a cadet, my first league interview was with Wayne Bennett in Toowoomba, when the Broncos and Storm played a trial match at the Clydesdales’ old ground. After swallowing the giant lump in my throat, I plucked up the courage to ask Wayne a question. He must have sensed how nervous I was because he gave me a crooked smile and a sensational answer. I owe that man a beer… or, given he is a teetotaller, a softdrink!

My travels as a reporter saw me head to North Queensland. It was there that I finally got the opportunity to play rugby league. After signing on with Brothers in Mackay the pre-season torture started almost immediately. Some days, after sprinting up countless hills in 40 degree heat, I felt like quitting… but that was never really an option. The girls in my team were like family and our coach and club expected us to perform at our very best week in, week out. I’ve played plenty of sports during my time but this was by far the best. We put in a mammoth effort that season cruising through to the finals undefeated.

I will never forget grand final day for as long as I live. I was so nervous. I felt nauseous. Sitting in the sheds being taped up and handed our jerseys for the final time that season was surreal. It was like nothing I had ever felt. We played out of our skins that day and came home with the premiership. We were all ecstatic and we deserved to be. My medal still hangs up at home and when I look at it, it reminds me of that achievement and how hard work really does pay off.

I’ve since ventured south and Sydney is now “home”. I feel so privileged to be working in the field that I love, reporting on the sport I love. The people I have met through my involvement in the game have been wonderful and welcoming. League really is something everyone can be a part of, whether it be teaching skills to juniors or working in the tuckshop at your local league ground. The enjoyment I get from the game, even just as a spectator is immense.

I’m certain rugby league will always be a big part of my life.

Sarah Coates is a sports reporter for Channel 7 and a Premiership winning player for Mackay Brothers Football Club.

Follow Sarah Coates on twitter: @SarahCoates13

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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