Kangaroos could learn from Jillaroos' sacrifices
Male rugby league players could learn a thing or two from the dedication and sacrifices the elite female players have shown on their road to the upcoming Trans-Tasman Test against the Silver Ferns, according to Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga.
Meninga – appointed in December as not only coach of the men's national team but with a charter to oversee elite pathways in both the men's and women's codes, including Junior Kangaroos – had nothing but praise for the Jillaroos players ahead of the historic May 6 double-header.
"There are some great stories around [from the female players] and the men can learn from that," Meninga said.
"Sometimes they can sit in ivory towers and look at how good it is or how bad it is at times but you look at some of the stories that the women - a young girl [Latoya Billy] from Torres Strait getting on a boat and getting a bus and getting down to Cairns to play - those sort of stories are really important because that's where everyone started from. That's our grass roots."
Billy's remarkable story is just one of the many that show the dedication female players have shown to reach the top level.
Like young Casey Karklis from Stradbroke Island who has to get a boat to the mainland to get to training then stay overnight before returning home the next day as the boats don't run late enough at night.
There's also the story of five-eighth Allana Ferguson, who recently told NRL.com about how she passed up a chance to press for Olympic selection due to her love of rugby league.
Ferguson is also a teacher and has to take unpaid time off from her full-time job to join training camps but she said the sacrifices pale compared to what the game brings.
"It is hard. I don't get paid while we're in camp or playing so in terms of that, it makes it tricky but women don't play for the money, we play because we just absolutely love it," Ferguson told NRL.com.
"It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make, it's a sacrifice I know a lot of the girls in the team are willing to make. We just want to get out there and play footy so if we have to have a week or 10 days off work then we do it because we love it."
Ferguson also had to overcome the hurdle of a broken ankle that put her out of the pre-season All Stars fixture and has required plenty of rehab to get right.
"I broke my ankle prior to Auckland (the Auckland Nines) and it wasn't right when I was playing on it," she said.
"I've spent a solid amount of time on it, got it fixed, I've been doing rehab every day, and I've got a daily plan so I'm excited. I just want to get into camp, smash out those fitness tests then get into team skills and tactics."
Ferguson's halves partner Maddie Studdon has been in and around the Jillaroos since 2014, and now balances training with overnight shifts as a wharfie and doing extras wherever she can.
"I work on the wharves, so I'm a stevedore," Studdon told NRL.com.
"I do shift work so it's hard for me to do all the training and stuff, especially with the night shifts, I start at 10pm and finish at 6am in the morning so it is tough but in my breaks at work I go to the gym in my break.
"I do as much training as I can because I won't get much in the day but if I don't have night shift I'll go down the park and do extras, kicking, goal kicking, everything like that – just the little extras."
Studdon said she has already had to take time off this year and is still a casual but her employer has been understanding.
"It's a bit hard, I'll have to go into the office and try and get some days off! But they're very good. Being a new job and everything, they're very good, especially since I'm representing my country – they help me a lot."
Meninga was looking forward to bringing the men's and women's national teams together in Newcastle in a fortnight where, even as some of the Jillaroos are soaking up whatever they can from the male players, the Kangaroos will no doubt get a chance to learn a thing or two as well.
"Everyone that's played the game has got a story about mum and dad taking them somewhere or jumping on a bus and travelling hours to play a game. Sometimes you forget about all that but I think the women and their stories bring us back to reality a fair bit," Meninga said.