One-on-one with league's most passionate coach
Jazmyn Taumafai once left hospital while in the early stages of labour to watch the under-14s rugby league team she coaches win a semi-final so to say she is crazy about footy would be an understatement.
The 22-year-old Maroons rep and Jillaroos squad member has already achieved plenty in her playing career to date but an untimely torn ACL a year ago led to her trying her hand on the other side of the clipboard – with immediate success.
Twelve months on from that ACL tear, Taumafai is already back in pre-season training with a view to continuing what will hopefully be a long and successful on-field career which may put her budding coaching career temporarily on hold – given she is also raising two young children while also working for Queensland Health.
Taumafai was recently one of 300 invitees to an NRL-sponsored coaching day for coaches at all levels around the country with Taumafai among the 10 per cent of female attendees.
Speaking to NRL.com shortly after the clinic, the impressive Sunshine Coast product's enthusiasm for the sport shone through.
"I was in the car park having contractions and doing my breathing techniques while watching my girls play rugby league. I don't know why, I'm crazy about footy."
The coaching clinic
"I was really impressed with the amount of different workshops they put on that day," Taumafai said.
"I chose workshops that would work around female participation in rugby league. I definitely got a lot of skills out of it – learning the difference between female rugby league and male rugby league and how we do have to adjust our coaching styles towards that.
"It was fantastic they had a lot there to help us females because personally, I've been coached by men my whole life and some of them have been successful coaches with females, some of them not so great.
"For them to do a workshop to educate people about how to coach female athletes was probably the best thing I took out of it. Even myself as a female, I didn't know how to approach some situations even though I am female myself.
"Even the mental health aspect of football, knowing that we have a duty of care to players and that there is information out there for us to tap into to help out our players is fantastic.
"The psychological part of rugby league and that we do get people from all different walks of life coming to play the same sport and sometimes they're coming not to be competitive but to be a part of something bigger than themselves... we can have a huge impact on these players' lives, especially at the junior level and how they can develop as adults."
Passion from a young age
Taumafai started playing league at school before joining local club the Caboolture Snakes before a "bit of a break" to have her first baby. Taumafai returned to the field to make the Maroons Origin side two years running while also featuring in the Jillaroos squad over the same period.
"Unfortunately tore my ACL in half at the end of last season so I had to pull out of football for a bit so I could get my surgery done," Taumafai said.
"I also had another baby because I thought 'we're off for another year so I might as well have another baby'!" she laughed.
"I've recovered from the ACL now and had my second baby but that's what pushed me into coaching."
A knack for mentoring
While pregnant with her second baby, Taumafai took on the under-14s girls side at Caboolture – with immediate and dramatic success.
"I knew I wanted to be involved and I thought why not help out the younger girls, give back to them what I know," she said.
"I'm all about female participation, I just want to share this love I have with other girls and lucky enough for me I had a really successful coaching year.
"My team went undefeated this year and won the grand final and I also got a Sunshine Coast Falcons [representative] coaching gig for the under-16s girls which was awesome.
"They gave me the head coach position for the under-16s girls to take to Kingaroy this year and they did very well, they lost one game out of four… I really enjoyed it and hopefully will be able to continue on the next few years."
Don't tell the doctor
Taumafai can't help laughing when recalling how, while in the early stages of labour, she got her mum to pick her up from the hospital to drive her to the nearby field where her under-14s were doing battle in a knockout semi-final.
"I was induced and it looked like I had a few hours before I'd hit heavy labour. The nurse gave me an hour to walk around the hospital and I thought 'OK if we're walking around the hospital surely I'll be fine to just quickly duck out'!" Taumafai laughed.
"They told me to stay around the hospital so I got my mum and my partner, they snuck me out and we drove to watch the first half of the semi-final.
"So I was in the car park having contractions and doing my breathing techniques while watching my girls play rugby league. I don't know why, I'm crazy about footy. I just had to watch at least, I think I got the first half in!"
Taumafai admitted the doctors didn't know about her secret mission that day.
"No, they didn't know. They took my heart rate when I got back and were like 'oh it's so high' – I was a little excited because they played a fantastic half!
"But it's easy to coach a group of people that are so willing to learn and listen and they did really well and I'm sure we'll see a lot of those girls in future rep teams and representing our country for sure. There's a lot of talent in Caboolture."
A balancing act
Taumafai has more than enough to keep her busy at the moment.
"I work at a mental health facility; I work for Queensland health and I take acute care calls for people with mental health that are new to the service that need extra support then we help feed the mental health patients that come into the emergency department," Taumafai said.
"It's a demanding job but I wouldn't have it any other way.
"I'm going back to playing next year – we've already started pre-season. We started up a new team on the Sunny Coast at Caboolture so it looks like the word's caught on."
Now that she has started down the coaching path, Taumafai said her goals have shifted a little.
"One of my big goals was to make a World Cup but right now my goal has changed to being around so I can continue playing by the time my under-14 girls get to women's and hopefully have a run with them," she said.
"Rep comes and goes, I don't know what my body's going to allow me to do but I'm pretty content with my achievements in rugby league and right now my goal is just to make sure that the women's game continues to go and gets the recognition that it deserves."
Women's game on the up on the Sunny Coast
"There's going to be about four new teams on the Sunshine Coast and it looks like we'll be having our own Sunny Coast comp just like the men's," Taumafai said.
"With the men's we have the Sunshine Coast men's comp and then the Brissy men's comp. With the women last year we only had one Sunny Coast team which was Beerwah women's but next year it looks like there's going to be a Sunshine Coast competition for women because it looks like there's going to be five new teams which is fantastic.
"The goal will be, wherever there's an A-grade men's team at a club there should be a women's team as well. It's looking like we're getting towards our goal which is really exciting."