Georgia Hale ditches netball to make mark for Warriors
When Georgia Hale first took up rugby league she'd leave home for training with a little lie, telling her mother she was off to play netball.
Mum might have shuddered at the prospect of the bone-crunching contact league promised, but Georgia instantly loved the tough stuff after her touch teammates talked her into playing for the Richmond Roses in the Auckland club competition.
"I think it was just from my first bit if contact, my first tackle that I was hooked on the game," said Hale who had previously represented New Zealand at touch and tag.
"I used to play touch and tag at school but league is my favourite now by far."
It's little wonder. Fast-forward four years and the halfback-turned-hooker can't quite believe how far the women's game has progressed, let alone her own career - on and off the pitch.
On Friday night, the 23-year-old will line up as the Warriors women play their first game against Auckland in the curtain-raiser to the Warriors-Knights NRL clash at Mt Smart Stadium.
She won't have to worry about battling Auckland's notorious traffic to make the 6.05pm kick-off either - the Kiwi Ferns international works at the Penrose club as a community co-ordinator for the Warriors.
"It's exciting to see how big it's going to get," said Hale of the "first step" that is the inaugural NRL Holden Women's Premiership to be contested by the Warriors, Dragons, Broncos and Roosters in conjunction with the men's NRL playoffs next month.
"The growth from the time I've been in the game, you know, our first trip away we paid to go, we shared a room with all 18 players, we were on triple bunk beds. Now we're paid, contracted players so in four years it has changed so much. Just imagine five years, 10 years down the track what the game is going to look like."
As excited as Hale is for the future and the pathway for young girls, it's the present that she's focused as she attempts to lock her place in the 17 (from 22 contracted players) that will eventually play the Warriors' NRL opener in September.
It starts on Friday night with Kiwi Ferns captain Laura Mariu, 37, named to skipper the Warriors in the warm-up clash.
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Almost inevitably, the media focus will be on Lorina Papali'i, the 41-year-old mother of Isaiah who will later run out for the men's team against Newcastle.
But Hale believes fans will be shocked by the talent spread across the field in the Luisa Avaiki-coached Warriors side.
"I think people, if they haven't already watched women's rugby league, they're going to be pleasantly surprised," Hale said.
"It [women's league] is a great game and there are some amazing females in our team and the teams we are going to come up against, [players] who have amazing talents and that just add something so different to rugby league. I'm excited for everyone to see that."
Hale will be back at work on Monday – "I do a lot of work in the schools, grassroots rugby league, charity work so I do get to spend a lot of time with the boys bossing them around" – but knows the premiership will roll around quickly.
"Some of our Kiwi Ferns players have hopped over the ditch and they're playing for the other teams which is also exciting because it shows the talent and depth of players we have here in New Zealand is wanted over there as well.
"I think every team is going to bring something different. I'm not sure what that is yet, we'll have to wait and see. But I think it's going to be a really tough competition and there's not a lot of time to wait around and see what every team is about, you've just got to get stuck in."