Ahead of the rescheduled NRL Telstra Women's Premiership, NRL.com profiles the next crop of talent ready to make their mark in 2022.
- Name: Emma Manzelmann
- Age: 20
- Club: Knights
- Position: Hooker
Whether it's racing against Olympic swim stars Ariarne Titmus and Kaylee McKeown, or coming up against her cousins in a game of beach footy, Knights rookie Emma Manzelmann only knows one way.
The North Queensland product, one of five in Newcastle's inaugural NRLW squad for the rescheduled NRL Telstra Women's Premiership, arrives in the Hunter as a former national swimmer and promising dummy half.
After several years of competing against Titmus, McKeown and Meg Harris, Manzelmann is ready to switch her focus to the NRLW's very own pool of talent this year.
"I grew up playing footy from when I was six and also started swimming, so those two have always been a big part of my life," Manzelmann told NRL.com.
"When I was coming through at school there were no pathways available for us with rugby league. It was the odd carnival once a year for the girls so I stopped a bit and focused on swimming.
"Once rugby league came back into the frame I was trying to do football and swimming in my teens but once I left high school I had to pick one.
"The pathways available to female athletes now in rugby league make it very appealing, it's a real eye-opener. Even if you've only had a few years under your belt playing, or haven't played much at all."
Manzelmann has resumed her rugby league journey in recent years and was named co-captain of Queensland's under 18s side in 2019.
While her swimming commitments have slowed down, the apprentice mechanic doesn't regret switching her focus to rugby league.
"I do have moments where I look back and wonder because some of those girls have gone onto the Olympics and had great success," Manzelmann said.
"I definitely miss the competitive side but not the training, it just became so much more full-on .... it's in the morning and afternoon, every day of the week."
Not that Manzelmann is complaining about the workload too much.
She credits her strict swimming regime growing up as a key reason why she excels on the paddock when it comes to endurance.
"Pool fitness isn't everything for footy but it certainly helps with your all-round game," she said.
"Swimming is such an individual sport but with footy it's about not only yourself but worry about the whole team.
"I found that hard in the transitioning process more than anything. If I'm not doing my job then it affects others.
"The contact side of the game I have always grown up playing on the beach with my cousins, so have quite enjoyed that aspect."
A phone call from former Knights coach Blake Green sealed the deal for Manzelmann to fly to Newcastle and be part of the club's first campaign.
"Blake actually text me and when I read it I thought 'oh shit' – I was too scared to ring back," she laughed.
"But I finally did after work and he said 'were you too nervous to ring me back straight away' and I replied 'yep!'."
With some familiar teammates around her from the North Queensland Gold Stars side, Manzelmann hopes it helps push the Cowboys into gaining an NRLW licence in 2023.
"I really hope so, watching it grow up here [in North Queensland] is so cool to be able to pave that pathway for the younger generation," Manzelmann said.
"Now there are school and club competitions, there's everything. We're also just really excited to represent the Knights and have some great success.
"There's something different about us that I think will be on show this season."
Tickets are now on sale for the NRLW season. Ticket prices start at just $12 for adults, and juniors under 15 can redeem a free general admission ticket with any paying adult. Visit nrl.com/tickets