Our great game starts at the grassroots
Weekend footy is a carnival of the senses. That sharp smell of Dencorub. The sound of whistles piercing through the cheers and boos on the sidelines. The sight of grass-stained and mud-splattered jerseys.
If you have played The Greatest Game of All, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
That feeling of pulling on a jumper is just so hard to beat. Strapping on your boots, fixing up your headgear and washing the grass clippings out of your mouthguard from Thursday night's contact session.
"Anyone got some footy tape?" There's always one person who forgets to bring it.
Everyone has a ritual when getting ready for game - no matter the grade. But what made me feel electric was seeing the district logo on my chest as I headed out for the warm up.
It was Queensland Rugby League.
Wearing it above my heart made me feel that, in a small way, I was part of the fabric that weaves together our great state and its magical Origin side. It's a thought I'm sure is repeated throughout the junior rugby league districts across the country.
"Come on Sirens! Huge day today! These girls from Wests Mitchelton are tough but so are we!"
Being part of a team like the Sunshine Coast Sirens was second to none. The camaraderie and passion got into my bloodstream.
Standing on four cones doing passing drills, nervous about the game but knowing in 15 minutes you will be going into battle with a stellar group of humans beside you.
It doesn't matter if you're six or 56, when rugby league gets its claws into you, you're hooked for life.
I was lucky to be born in a day and age where a woman can experience playing a fully fledged game of rugby league.
(Photos: Jason Dougherty/APN)
The sting from the hits. The burn in your lungs as you try and get back the 10. And of course the inevitable eruption of emotion when the referee gives you a dud call.
"Oh you are kidding sir! They've been offside all day!"
It's quickly followed by the embarrassment of being at fault when your team is marched an extra 10 metres for your backchat.
In my first game they played me at dummy-half. There was this big, strong girl who took up an inside ball off their halfback. She was running straight at me.
"Oh no. Do I go for her legs? Do I try and smother the ball? What if she passes?"
Bang! I closed my eyes and just threw myself at her.
When I opened them back up she had miraculously fallen over and dropped the ball. To this day I have no idea how I managed it but it felt GREAT!
I got a pat on the back from my team mates... but it was fleeting. There's no stopping a bulldozer and that same girl ran over me about half a dozen times during the course of the game.
Wests Mitchelton girl 6, Yvonne 1.
When the fulltime whistle sounded I was struggling to walk. Sore, bruised and my shorts full of grass.
Regardless of the pain I still had a huge smile. A smile that creeps onto my face every time I think about playing a game of footy.
After the game the girls piled into the change room. Sweat infused into our jumpers and dirt smeared over every bit of exposed skin.
We had won.
The team stood arm in arm as our captain hopped into the middle of the circle and we belted out the team song.
What a feeling.
The thing about playing local footy is that the experience isn't just about being on the field. It's all the cogs pulling in the same direction that makes this big wheel turn.
The blokes who battle the frost to roll the paint on the pitch as the sun is rising on a crisp Saturday morning. Mum in the canteen selling $3.00 pies while dad gives his 10 year old a pep talk about why he needs to tackle around the legs.
The tradie coach who heads to training twice a week with paint splattered across his high viz. After 12 hours of back-breaking work he still remembers to bring footballs and tackling bags.
Without all of those people rugby league wouldn't exist. And they all do it for nothing. Not a cracker.
Why? Because they love this game.
It's a love that began for each and every one of us while watching the greats run around Lang Park, Kogarah Oval or Brookie. A love that became an addiction in a dressing shed with a team full of your best mates.
A love that starts from the grassroots up and a love that really does make this The Greatest Game Of All.
Round 3 of the Telstra Premiership is PlayNRL Round where the game will celebrate all that’s great about grassroots rugby league.
Rugby league is all about having fun, making friends and staying healthy. The NRL is using this round to help promote junior rugby league and thank you, our future stars and fans and heroes who help make it all possible.
Join the conversation at #PlayNRL, get your tickets at nrl.com/tickets and get to a game. Talk to your local junior club about signing up as a player or volunteer and join the thousands of people who make rugby league great.