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Star reporter makes Rugby League debut at 28

Star NRL.com reporter Katie Brown has shared with nswrl.com.au the special moment she made her Rugby League debut at age 28 in the Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership, only eight months after her first training session.

Living the dream

Just like that, I made my rugby league debut for the South Sydney Rabbitohs and it was AWESOME! (Except when I dropped the ball after my first hit up but we’ll get to that)

I didn’t know what to expect in November when I asked newly appointed Rabbitohs coach Dean Widders if I could join in pre-season.

I also didn’t know how the players would feel about a reporter rocking up to training. I certainly told myself I didn’t belong and how stupid it was that a 28-year-old journalist thought she could play Rugby League. However, my biggest fear was failing. And failing in front of other people.

But here I am, eight months later breathing a sigh of relief.

I did it.

I achieved my goal, one I never thought I’d never accomplish.

Jersey Presentation

July 25 is a day I’ll never forget, filled with so many special memories including being presented my Rabbitohs jersey by two legends of the game – Tarsha Gale and Dean Widders.

Funnily enough, I met the pair in 2018 when NRL.com started the network’s first female panel show, Wednesday’s Our Way. They were my two co-hosts. Who would have thought two years later they’d be watching me play in the pink and green for the oldest, proudest and loudest club.

I was given jersey number 17. As I put it on over my shoulder pads, I felt two things. Bulletproof and gratitude.

Now it was time to play my first ever real game of rugby league in the Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership.

Just before halftime Dean told me to warm up, I remember feeling butterflies swoop into my stomach. It was happening. I started going over all the things I wanted to remember on the field - tackle hard, run hard, fast feet, talk to the girls, don’t get too excited, run good lines.

As I ran out onto the field, I could hear Tarsha yelling words of encouragement. I turned to Dean and asked what side I was playing and he replied, ‘No you’re in the middle, go have fun and defend.”

I was thrown off - sorry, middle? No, surely not. I’m not a big front rower. Or am I? I have put on 9 kilos since Christmas which I guess does make me a whole solid 74kg.

The game

So, there I was, jumping side to side under the sticks at Morry Breen Oval warming up the legs. The whistle blows, Roosters kick off. I’m on the run and catching a short ball off my Souths teammate Arabella McKenzie for the first hit up of the second half.

Boom! Down, but not out.

I thought to myself in that split second, ‘Wow’. Until I got up and felt the ball roll out of my hand. Damn it. Dropped the ball in my first hit-up. That was disappointing and I felt so bad for my poor teammates.

Katie Brown's debut highlights

But the girls were all so good to me and got behind me to get in there and get it back.

The rest of the match was kind of a blur, I had another few hit-ups, made some tackles in which I copped a corked thigh. I was running off pure adrenaline.

I caught myself smiling at one point, the inner child in me just loving life on the footy field.

A 25-minute performance in the middle for my first match, I felt like we’d won. Even though we lost to a slick Roosters outfit 32-8.

The motivation

The most popular question I’ve had from people is - why did I want to play?

Well firstly, I proved to myself that if I put in the work, I really am capable of achieving a goal. Ultimately, I have always loved pushing myself outside my comfort zone and I love playing sport so when I saw the women playing in the first NRLW competition, that’s when I started thinking about having a go.

To those in the footy world, they only see me as the host of Inside the NRL or the NRL.com journalist at press conferences but my friends and family have always known the other side to me and that is that I am an athlete. I always have been.

Sure, I’m no Isabelle Kelly or Steph Hancock but what a lot of people may not know, is I have always played competitive sport. I was Athletics Sportswoman of the Year at my High School, McAuley Catholic College; I played representative netball; I actually captained the Queensland Country side; and I’d had a taste of contact sport in 2017 when I played Aussie Rules for the Broadbeach Cats where we were the undefeated premiers.

So, was rugby league what I expected? Yes. It really was.

To everyone who helped me get here – thank you.

I loved every minute of my debut for the South Sydney Rabbitohs and now that I got a taste, I can’t wait to play again.