Jillaroos' journey from famine to feast
The Jillaroos squad that has assembled in Sydney for the Women's Rugby League World Cup starting on Thursday is the fittest and strongest Australian team ever assembled.
Nine years ago the majority of girls lost weight during the course of the tournament because there simply wasn't enough food to go around.
Only two members of the 2017 team, Steph Hancock and Renae Kunst, were part of the Jillaroos team that was based on the Sunshine Coast for the 2008 Women's World Cup and their recollections are a far cry from the professionalism of today.
Where the current Jillaroos have been afforded every available luxury and tool to physically prepare, the players who laid the foundation a decade ago did so on their own coin and rationing out food for the duration of the tournament.
Hancock, along with Kunst and Ruan Sims the co-captains for Australia's World Cup campaign, recalls her father Rohan, a former Kangaroo himself, driving past the team's accommodation and trying to deliver additional food to his daughter.
"I remember that all the big girls up front lost weight because there was no funding," Hancock recalled.
"Dad's work, Kellarney Abattoir, sponsored the team and I remember dad passing by out the front because I wanted to get more food and we weren't allowed to leave the actual motel room.
"Dad was trying to throw me up this food, I think it was a pasta dish of some kind in a takeaway container, but it just didn't work out.
"It's everything from the food and the facilities to the coaches. Back then we had a coach, an assistant coach, an assistant manager and maybe a trainer as our support staff whereas here we've got 10 staff, the best facilities in Queensland here at Royal Pines.
"We've got a footy field outside our hotel room, we've got access to this brilliant gym, the best food, all the gear upstairs that you need. You can't compare them. You honestly can't."
Such has been the advancement in the women's game, particularly since the success at the 2013 World Cup, that Kunst says the current squad have the opposite issue to that faced by the team in 2008.
"I always remember getting to the end of that World Cup and we'd all lost quite a bit of weight because we simply weren't eating as much as we were probably used to," Kunst told NRL.com.
"Now we've got the problem of making sure you're not eating too much because of the massive spread of food that gets put on for us.
"We actually stayed in really good accommodation [in 2008] but we didn't have the money behind us.
"We had family come in and cook meals for us and with that the meals were rationed out. You were put on a portion size."
In addition to the bountiful buffet of food at their disposal, the modern-day Jillaroos are also exposed to a high level of professionalism when it comes to their preparation. The entire 24-woman squad has had to complete a gruelling four-week training block of self-discipline prior to coming into camp at RACV Royal Pines on the Gold Coast last week.
Under the coaching staff of Brad Donald, Jamie Feeney and Karyn Murphy and the expert input of strength and conditioning coach Simon Buxton no Jillaroos team has ever been better prepared for a demanding World Cup campaign, which for Kunst means there can be no excuses.
"There were limited camps back then and a lot of our preparation was done solo. With that came limited money as well," Kunst said of the change in preparation.
"For your training you were pretty much left to your own devices so the difference between now and then is the utmost professional environment.
"We've just come off the back of a four-week training block where we were all doing the same program, we were being monitored daily and while we're all back in our own home towns we're having to enter data daily on the training we're doing, the weights we're lifting, the kilometres we're covering, our wellness, our mood.
"Everything that a professional athlete these days does and that will help our team to be as prepared as possible heading into game one on Thursday.
"We've been so well looked after, the professionalism in here means we don't have to worry about anything other than playing rugby league so it's been fantastic. It's probably a camp that I've never been as fortunate as what's going on here now.
"With that comes no excuses. It's up to us now to come through and get the job done."
The Jillaroos face Cook Islands in their opening World Cup clash at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Thursday, before playing England at the same venue on Sunday.