Michaela Peck was so keen to play rugby league she didn’t rest until a competition was created in which she could play.
As a child, she played for South-East Queensland club Stanley River Wolves with, and against boys, but once that avenue was shut down when she turned 12, she had to hit the road to get a game.
During her teenage years, Peck played a bit of footy in school and made some district teams. But the hard reality for girls at that time was that there wasn’t much further to go.
There was even a point where Peck tried her hand at refereeing, so desperate was she to stay connected to the game she loved.
Then along came Kate Cross.
"Kate Cross was one of the NRL development managers for the North Brisbane region. I begged her, I pleaded with her to start a women’s competition in my area," Peck said.
"We had two-and-a-half teams. We ended up playing in a round robin competition where we would play each other over and over again."
Since then, Peck has played for many clubs across Queensland and NSW, including Bribie Island, Cronulla Sharks, Beerwah Bulldogs and now the West Brisbane Panthers.
Peck’s journey (and others like her) are what I find most inspiring about the women’s game.
Prior to the establishment of competitions in each state which now means that there is an unbroken pathway from young girls to the Australian Jillaroos, many women travelled the country so they could continue playing.
As well as the travel, Peck has fought her way back from two serious injuries. In 2011 she injured her neck and then in 2012, her first game back, she snapped her ACL and had a lateral and medial meniscus tear in her knee.
She also trialled for the NRLW’s “Top 40” in its first year, narrowly missing out.
There’s one thing that pushes women like Peck to keep coming back to rugby league.
"It’s because I love it," Peck said.
"I have always wanted to play at a higher level and even though I have moved around and had injuries, there’s still time for me to make that dream come true.
"I haven’t made it yet, but I love the game, so I still have the passion to keep pushing toward that goal. Even if I don’t make it, at least I can say I gave myself every opportunity."
Her commitment to making it at the highest level even resulted in Peck making a decision two years ago to give up her full-time job and shift to a casual role so she could continue to pursue her dream.
"Travelling with the Navy, I couldn’t be left at a location because I wasn’t at the elite level," she said.
Bulldogs fullback changing the game
"I made the decision to get out of the Navy so I could move back home to my support network and give footy a crack.
"The only way to be able to stay in a location and play consistent footy was to leave my job at that point."
While Peck misses the security of a full-time job she recognises it was the best decision for her.
Peck’s decision to commit to her footy has not gone unnoticed. In 2018 and 2019 Peck was selected for the Prime Minister’s XIII with games taking her to Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
For Peck, that experience has been a highlight of her footy career, playing alongside Jillaroos and NRLW players.
That experience also gave Peck the chance to understand the training, nutrition and commitment it takes to compete at that highest level.
With data analytics becoming so prominent, there was nowhere to hide.
"Getting the chance to be coached by Brad Donald and Jamie Feeney was incredible. But there was so much support too," Peck said.
Even if I don’t make it, at least I can say I gave myself every opportunity.Michaela Peck
"Having a physio to go to when you are injured and a doctor if you need anything is so helpful because you don’t have to get referral upon referral to get the care you need.
"It wasn’t an opportunity I ever thought I would get, but it happened and it has kept the fire burning."
As for an opportunity for Peck to play in the NRLW, Peck remains hopeful.
"You never know. I can only put my best foot forward and work hard," she said.
"I’ve lost six kilograms, I don’t know if that’s helped me in the forwards, but I’m a lot leaner than I have been in previous years."
As for the growth of the women’s game in recent years, Peck now truly feels part of the wider rugby league community.
"I love that young girls have the opportunity to play footy. It’s not a boys' game anymore. It’s a game for everyone and that’s really important."
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.