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: Therese Aiton
After missing out on a contract for the 2021 season, Therese Aiton was ready to abandon her NRLW dream but the postponement of the competition gave the PNG Orchids star an unexpected second chance.
Aiton, 32, recently completed her nursing degree and had started a new position when the Parramatta Eels offered her a contract for the upcoming season, which kicks off on February 27 with a triple header at McDonald Jones Stadium.
“I had pretty much made my peace with the fact that as hard as you try and as much as you want it, it maybe wasn’t going to happen for me so when I received that call I was like … I had no words,” Aiton said.
“I went to a new role at my job because I just finished my nursing last year so as that door opened I kind of figured that the footy door had closed for me.
“Most girls had already received contracts at that point and knew where they were going so I thought it was just another year of not happening for me.”
Aiton has been playing since she was 15 years of age and toured New Zealand with the Australian Under 21s team in 2006 before injuries and motherhood put her career on hold for a decade from 2008.
The debut of the PNG Orchids at the 2017 World Cup and the establishment of the NRL Telstra Women’s Premiership the following year inspired Aiton to make a comeback and she gained selection for her country of birth against the Prime Ministers XIII at the end of the 2018 season.
The Brisbane-based hooker created history by joining brother Paul - the former Kumuls captain - as a fully-fledged PNG international in the 2019 Pacific Test against Fiji, with the pair becoming the first male and female siblings to represent the league-mad nation.
“I love that I come from PNG because just the culture around football and the support you get from the whole country is something that most people don’t get to experience,” Aiton said.
“They used to laugh and shun female football players and now it is the biggest growing sport for women. The support back home is amazing and the newspaper articles, and all of that sort of stuff, is pretty cool.”
Just the third Orchids player to earn an NRLW contract after Amelia Kuk and Elsie Albert, Aiton is hoping to play in the World Cup at the end of the season in England.
She has established a scholarship to help PNG players come to Australia to play in a bid to develop the competitiveness of the Orchids and Albert, who plays for St George Illawarra, was the first recipient.
“My two goals for this year were to play in the NRLW and to play in the World Cup,” she said. “I never thought I would get that NRLW opportunity, so it was good to finally tick that goal off and the next one is the World Cup.”
While Paul is on the coaching staff of the PNG Hunters, who play in Queensland’s Knock-on Effect Cup, he and Therese have been in regular contact since she arrived in Sydney on January 7 to commence pre-season training with the Eels.
“I rely on him heaps and it is not just the skills of passing and work around the ruck, but mentally walking into a team this year where I didn’t know anyone at all and then playing a pivotal role of trying to control play around the ruck with players you don’t really know,” she said.
“Probably the first few training sessions for me were daunting and there was a level of anxiety there so he was someone I would call to level me out a bit and to help me understand what I need to focus on going forward.”
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