Fanning's fight finally comes to fruition

It was the moment that 20 years of fighting and perseverance came to perfect fruition.

As she stood by the side of the stage ready to present the trophy bearing her name, Katrina Fanning considered for a second what she was about to do and almost lost herself amidst the significance.

Standing beside her, ARL Commission chairman John Grant turned to Fanning and asked if she was OK, the pioneering Jillaroo struggling to comprehend the view from the summit of a mountain she never dared dream she'd reach.

Like Laurie Daley, Fanning was a Junee Diesel before moving to Canberra after she completed school and representing the Jillaroos in their first Test in 1995, going on to play 24 Tests for her country, a record when she retired from playing.

Off the field Fanning has devoted her career to providing greater opportunities for Indigenous people and in 2014 was named the ACT's Woman of the Year for her advocacy for Indigenous people throughout her decorated career in the public sector.

So you'll forgive her for taking a moment to comprehend the significance of what it meant to climb the stairs of the temporary stage in the centre of McDonald Jones Stadium to present the Fanning-Murphy trophy to Bec Young, captain of the Women's Indigenous All Stars team in Newcastle on February 10 this year.

"The emotion got the better of me," Fanning tells NRL.com of the Women's Indigenous team's first win in the seven years that the match has been played.

"For all the belief in the world the day that it actually happens and it comes together the way those girls did in that game is still unbelievable.

"It's almost as though it was a mountain and you weren't quite sure what it was going to look like when you got to the top."

And how was the view that day?

"It was bloody beautiful."

For every metre Fanning fought to earn as a front-rower for the Jillaroos she has applied the same unwavering determination to life off the field.

 


Whether it be in her numerous roles working with Government departments in furthering the opportunities afforded to Indigenous people, her position on the ARLC Indigenous Council or inspiring the Women's Indigenous All Stars team to a maiden win in Newcastle earlier this year, Fanning brings a sense of purpose that demands and commands respect.

Officially a manager with the Women's Indigenous All Stars team, Fanning is indeed much more than that to the players she looks after, both an inspiration and a comfort as the girls continue on a path she fought so hard to forge.

Since she became involved with the Women's Indigenous All Stars team all Fanning ever wanted was the opportunity to prove that Indigenous women were just as worthy and just as talented if given the same resources, something that their coach Dean Widders says wasn't always forthcoming.

"There was a real feeling that we were being neglected for a few years there at All Stars," Widders says.

"The Jillaroos girls seemed to get all the attention that week and that was something that we had to earn but 'Fanno' would have no problem going up and telling people straight to their face that there were two teams there and everyone had to be given the same opportunities.

"She's got no problems standing up for Indigenous women in any space but also women in rugby league. She will stand up and say the things that need to be said and have the tough conversations with anyone about how all the girls playing rugby league should be treated.

"Here is a woman who had to fight for every inch for women's rugby league. Some of them lost jobs, lost houses, lost cars because they had to fund themselves and take time off work to play at that high level but their sacrifices have provided the opportunities now that these young girls get.

"With that trophy being named after her, it was such a reward to be able to see her enjoy the victory and to get the reward for it all.

"I was over the moon for her to be a part of it and have all those good moments."

Thrilled with how the game has encouraged and promoted the involvement of female players in the game in recent years, Fanning urges a cautious approach towards further expansion, pushing for the base to be built at the grassroots before considering an elite national competition.

But in the 11 years that the Women In League concept has been running the greatest breakthrough as far as Fanning is concerned is that as a code rugby league has moved past the novelty value and sees female participants exactly as they have seen themselves all along; as footballers.

"Even as great as the Women in League concept is, it took a few years for players to be part of the profile of that," says Fanning.

"It's just another division of people playing rugby league. Once we have been able to do that then people have done their jobs around that really well.

"You can't be what you can't see and the game has used these girls not just as a promotional tool for a World Cup every four years but in all layers of promotion of the game as athletes and representatives of the game. For me, that's the big improvement.

"The sky's the limit of what you can do if those things are presented fairly to people and they've got a genuine opportunity to participate."