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Tiger tough: Strong women going to great lengths chasing dreams

Round-trip commutes of more than four hours for training and matches provided a great indication of the lengths female players go to as they chase their dreams.

The Helensburgh Tigers, a new team in the NSW Women’s Premiership, feature of host of players happy to hit the road numerous times each week to take on some of the best players in the game.

Josie Strong is one of those players. After spending three years playing for the Corrimal Cougars in the Illawarra competition, Strong joined the Tigers (the northern-most club based in the Illawarra) to test herself on a bigger stage.

Strong and teammate Olivia Patterson travel from Nowra – an almost two-hour commute each way.

And they’re not even the ones who rack up the most kilometres each week. Milton resident Meg Buchanan is in the car for almost an hour before she reaches Nowra on her trips to Helensburgh.

What binds these women together is their passion for footy.

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"We are all coming together for a reason," Strong said.

"We are doing it because we love it and we want to play good footy. There is a lot of commitment that goes with that.

"We are also going this for the next generation and to create a pathway for them so that when the younger women begin to compete, they have more opportunity than we did."

The Tigers team – which also includes players from Sydney and the Sutherland area – is brimming with talent.

Strong, who is always pushing to be a better player, said the opportunity to be in a side that includes Australian Jillaroos Kezie Apps and Jessica Sergis was too good to pass up.

You get to challenge yourself and keep challenging yourself

Josie Strong on the NSW Women's Premiership

"This year, I am trying to better myself and I’ve moved to Helensburgh to play in the NSW Women’s Premiership," she said.

"It’s also great to play alongside players like Kezie, instead of against her.

"It makes the step up extra special too because each week is a challenge. You want to be as good as her, so you keep pushing yourself harder."

In terms of the women’s pathway, the NSW Women’s Premiership, just like its counterpart in Queensland, is essentially a feeder competition for the NRL Holden Women’s Premiership.

Given the talent which has hailed from the NSW South Coast including the likes of Apps, Sergis, Samantha Bremner, Keeley Davis and Shakiah Tungai, it’s important that there is a representation in the NSW Women’s Premiership from a club that represents the region.

It also means that these women get to play at better facilities, including the NSWRL Centre of Excellence and Campbelltown Stadium.

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Additionally, for players that are part of the Tigers that have already competed in the NRLW or for the Australian Jillaroos, it means that they get to play alongside their counterparts in NSW week in, week out.

While the Illawarra competition is known as one of the strongest in NSW, there is a step up to the NSW Women’s Premiership and Strong has noticed that.

"The Illawarra competition is a great competition," said Strong.

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"There are so many people down there trying to build the women’s game but coming up to the next level you notice the difference a lot.

"It’s a good thing. You get to challenge yourself and keep challenging yourself."

After a slow start to the season with a bye and a game cancelled due to rain, Helensburgh have started the season strongly with two wins and a loss. Given the number of talented women in the team, this is no surprise.

There is also a sense of closeness that has developed.

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The squad is close, but they will be missing one important player for the rest of the season after Bremner announced that she will be giving birth to her second child.

For Strong, family planning is just one other element that female players need to take into consideration during their careers.

"Everyone is stoked for Sammy and we can’t wait for her to get back on the field," said Strong.

"But it’s just another element that comes into play for women’s footy. We have to plan and prepare for these things.

"You need to take time off to give birth and you need to think about what it means to come back to sport and being able to compete in a contact sport again.

"You can’t just get straight back into it; so I’m really in awe of women who take the time away from the game and then come back, like Sammy."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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