Women's rugby league pioneer Ruan Sims is still pinching herself after being recognised with the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) last weekend in the Queen's Birthday Honours.
One of the first stars the women's game, Sims captained both the Australian Jillaroos and NSW Blues before becoming the NRL's first contracted women's player.
Sims was "pretty blown away" upon hearing news she would be recognised with the honour.
"It was so unexpected… It's not something that I was striving towards. It wasn't anything that was on my radar, so for it to be awarded to me without my knowledge kind of caught me off guard," Sims said.
"I think I'm still pinching myself; it stills feels very, very surreal."
The Sims family are no strangers to success, with Ruan's three brothers – Ashton, Tariq and Korbin – all having enjoyed successful NRL careers and sister CJ an accomplished rugby league and gridiron player.
It was their reaction that meant the most to the 39-year-old.
"They were so blown away… They were so excited," she said.
"I think I was more excited for them, just to see how much they enjoyed it. I think that's when it sort of started to sink in, just the magnitude of what it was that I was receiving and it was pretty phenomenal."
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Growing up in the small coastal town of Gerringong, NSW, the Sims family could never have imagined the heights that they would go on to reach.
"My brothers say it to me, 'could you ever have imagined as a little girl in Gerringong that this is where your future would be?'" she recalls.
"I said, 'absolutely not'… It's very exciting."
Sims said she was especially proud of the growth she has seen in the women's game since her career began.
"That's probably the thing that makes me most proud is just to see. Obviously it's the fastest growing part of rugby league participation-wise, and also for where it sits within the actual sports field in Australia," she said.
"It is one of the most exciting new prospects on the horizon and I think that now we're doing the right thing by creating professional pathways and career opportunities for players."
Sims said the NRL's expansion and promotion of the women's game has been "fantastic", following news that Parramatta, Newcastle and the Gold Coast would be home to a new trio of NRLW teams this year.
"It's great to see that the NRL are still forging ahead with their expansion plans. Obviously that was meant to happen last year but with COVID it was unfortunate that it couldn't," she said.
"Hopefully the Warriors are returning [in 2022] and then another side, so we'll potentially have eight teams playing next year and it's just so exciting because we have plenty of great talent on the horizon."
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The annual women's State of Origin fixture will be played next Friday night on the Sunshine Coast.
Sims, who has been working closely with the NSW squad, said "it's an exciting time on the calendar for everybody".
"It is such a great game… the talent and skill on display is huge," she said.
"Unfortunately for us, Queensland beat us last year on the Sunshine Coast so we will be getting up there looking to get a little bit back. We want to try and win because we love having that shield here and we'd love to see a double-header with the boys."
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Sims said there was a number of talented players to keep a close eye on in this year's match.
"I'd be keeping an eye on Tarryn Aiken in that five-eighth role for Queensland and Tamika Upton, the fullback – both of those girls were phenomenal last year," she said.
"For NSW, I'd probably be keeping an eye on Jess Sergis, she's back to playing that level of footy… [She's] fierce, tough and fast – everything you want to see in a football player – and one of our debutants Kennedy Cherrington would definitely be worth keeping an eye on because she is a really good talent."
Women’s Origin tickets are on sale via NRL Tickets. Supporters can watch the historic match from just $5 for juniors, $15 for adults and $35 for families