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Dragon Hannah Southwell.

St George Illawarra playmaker Mel Howard has calculated that she and team-mate Hannah Southwell drive 18 hours per week to and from their homes in Newcastle to training.

Backrower Holli Wheeler spends a similar amount of time travelling from Taree to Wollongong, as she stays with family one night per week.

All say it has been worth it for the opportunity to play in the inaugural Holden NRL Women’s Premiership.

“When you run out with your team-mates and you’ve got the NRL badge on your jersey you forget about the travelling and sacrifices,” Wheeler said. “It is just an unreal feeling and something I will always treasure.

“People have left family and left jobs but they are sacrifices we are willing to make because we love the game so much.”

Howard has cut back her hours as a PE teacher at Singleton High School in the Hunter Valley while she is training and playing for the Dragons, who have the opportunity to qualify for next weekend’s grand final if they beat Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium on Saturday.

“It is a pretty big opportunity and I guess we have just all made it work. I have gone casual this term to cater for footy,” she said.

Howard and Southwell share the driving during their round trips to training each Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. They arrive home about 11pm.

Dragon Melanie Howard.
Dragon Melanie Howard. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

Wheeler usually meets Howard and Southwell in Newcastle on Tuesday for the trip to Wollongong, stays overnight and then drives back with them on Wednesday night. The trio make the round trip together on Friday.

“We train in Wollongong on Tuesday and Friday and at Kogarah on Wednesday,” Southwell said. “It’s only for about eight weeks so it’s worth it. I am a personal trainer trainer so I can change my hours to suit me.”

With matches in the first two rounds of the Women’s Premiership drawing average television audiences of 215,000 and 16,724 fans being at ANZ Stadium to watch the Dragons beat the Warriors last Saturday, the players are gaining recognition from fans.

"I had a young girl come up to me at Suncorp and say she really liked the way I play and stuff like that. That was a shock for me," Wheeler said. "My partner has got two kids and they came up to watch. That was their first live NRL match, they loved it.

Dragon Holli Wheeler puts a great shot on Chelsea Lenarduzzi.
Dragon Holli Wheeler puts a great shot on Chelsea Lenarduzzi. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

“To see the smile on their faces made it all worth it, even though we got pumped. I overheard them saying, ‘Holli plays in the NRL’ and just things like that that show how proud they are of me.”

Howard said the response from her students had also been encouraging.

“They have been so cool, especially the kids I teach,” she said. “Heaps of them said how well I played and so many kids have told me that they had watched.”

As Howard teaches on Thursday and has to drive about an hour from Merewether to Singleton, Southwell usually drives home from Kogarah on Wednesday night.

“I have had to be super organised and we try to mix up the drivers because it is exhausting,” Howard said. “I probably do more driving than Hannah because I don’t work on Wednesday whereas she works Wednesday morning and will usually just sleep a bit.”

Wheeler, who roomed with Southwell during the NSW Women’s State of Origin camp, said the travelling had given the trio an opportunity to know each better.

“We just talk about day to day life. We have a laugh. They are amazing and it makes the trip so much easier with them.”