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Culture club: Broncos NRLW loyalty not all about winning

Expansion and the lure of more money elsewhere should threaten Brisbane's NRLW dynasty after three straight premierships but the loyalty of their players is overcoming those obstacles.

The Broncos have dominated the Telstra Women's Premiership, losing just one game since the competition started in 2018 on the way to a trifecta of titles.

With three new teams including local rivals Gold Coast added to this year's competition, which has been delayed until the start of October, it's natural to assume their talent would be diluted but the Broncos have retained the nucleus of their star-studded squad.

Stars of the women's game like Ali Brigginshaw, Tarryn Aiken, Millie Boyle, Chelsea Lenarduzzi, Tallisha Harden and Tamika Upton will again suit up for Brisbane in season four.

New rules have been introduced by the NRL to distribute talent more equally to support the three new clubs – the Titans, Eels and Knights.

Ali's amazing journey to the top

Each player is allocated a certain number of points depending on their experience. Each club can only accrue 130 points per squad of 24 players. The highest points allocation is 10, which applies to players offered a 'Tier A' Central contract for the 2021 season.

A club is only allowed four of these 'Tier A' players.

But there was a catch. During the negotiation stage, if a player was offered a 'Tier A' contract, they had the chance to reject it, place themselves on the open market and accept offers.

Aiken scores the opener

If you ask the players why they want to stay at the Broncos, you might be surprised by their answers.

Given most athletes are highly competitive and want to win, wouldn't it make sense to remain at a club that has won back-to-back-to-back premierships?

But when you speak to players like Aiken and Upton, winning does not come up as a reason for staying at the club.

"It would be so easy for people to think that we want to stay together just to win, but it's not like that," said Aiken.

"Why not stay at a club where you know you will be happy and where you are going to enjoy your football?"

What keeps players at the Broncos is the culture that this group of players has been able to create.

"We have had a lot of people turn down offers from other clubs to stay at the Broncos," said Aiken.

"What keeps me here is the culture we have created at the Broncos and the standards that have been set for us by the coaching staff and the players.

"At the Broncos, I know I can be supported to develop my game and play my best football. I know there are so many of us that think that they play their best footy at the Broncos.

"Everyone loves being here, loves to work hard and enjoys the competitive environment we have established.

"There are so many players trying to get into the 17 each week and they don't care where they play, they just want to be out on the field doing whatever they can."

Tamika Upton's 2020 season highlights

Upton had particular praise for the Broncos' leadership group comprised of players like Brigginshaw, Boyle and Lenarduzzi.

"As soon as you put the jersey on you have to get to the same level as those leaders, otherwise you aren't going to be there the following week," said Upton.

"We are challenged to always show up to training on time and train really hard which shows when you play.

"We have a lot of leaders at the club and I think they are the reason our training is quality. They live by the standards we set and live it on the field too."

There's more to it than just culture though. For so many years women have played sport because they love it.

With many women's sports still on the journey to become professional, there are very few women choosing to play rugby league for the money. They play for love and juggle family responsibilities, work and university to make it happen.

"I have the best fun at the Broncos and I'm playing alongside my best friends," Upton said.

"Loyalty is a big part of it too; I have loyalty to the club, the coach and the players and it would be way too hard to walk away now."

For Aiken, who is training alone like the other NRLW players, friendship is also key.

"I'm so much better in a group and I'm missing my training and the environment," said Aiken.

"The thing I miss the most is having others to compete against, obviously in a healthy way. 

"You don't just win a competition by wanting to win a competition and having the best team on paper.

"A lot goes on behind the scenes and that's something we really get right at the Broncos. Our previous success means nothing heading into this year, so we can't wait to get started."

 

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