After spending a decade between the ages of 12 and 21 cursing the rules that prevented her from playing rugby league, Karina Brown made it her mission to ensure no other girls would suffer the same fate.
Now 33 and more than a decade into a decorated career, the Titans winger is among four nominees for the prestigious Veronica White Medal for her tireless efforts in the Gold Coast community, mentoring young players and driving female participation in rugby league.
"I was the only girl playing league with the boys in Year 7 at school but I loved it. Then I turned 13 and I was devastated and found the world to be quite unfair that the rules said only boys could play rugby league," Brown said.
"I didn't realise at that time there was actually was an Australian team with Tahnee Norris and Karen Murphy and Nat Dwyer all playing in a World Cup and I’m at home thinking ‘it sucks to be a girl’. They were living heroes and I didn’t get to see them at that age but now the next generation do get to see us and they love it.
"Being able to have impact and have influence is what I love. Since 2010 when I started playing again, growing the game has been at the forefront of my mind. I'm passionate about creating opportunities for girls to play."
Travelling for hours each week, in her own time, Brown ensures she is regularly cheering, mentoring and supporting young female players at their games.
She has formed a special bond with 11-year-old Jenna Smith from the Helensvale Hornets club, who she met in 2021 when Tazmin Gray, Georgia Hale, Brittany Breayley-Nati, Crystal Tamarua and Brown were unveiled at a Titans' marquee signing event ahead of the NRLW season.
"They brought five girls in from different clubs and we had photos with the Origin shield we had just won and it was a great day," Brown said.
"A couple of months later Jenna's mum reached out on Facebook and said, 'JJ plays with the boys and I've noticed she has lost her confidence. Could you send me a quote or some advice I can pass on to her'.
"I said 'why don't I just drive down to the Gold Coast and watch her play and have a chat to her?' I thought that was important.
"If you have the time why not give it to help others. We formed a great friendship and now her mum is going to be the manager of the Helensvale under 12 girls team and they are getting more girls involved – you start building this community and making it bigger and bigger."
When Brown teamed with ARIA-nominated vocalist Jess Harlen and The Boy of Many Colors to produce an antherm for aspiring female players called 'She's Got Confidence', Jenna and her friends got the chance to star in the film clip shot at Channel Nine.
“We always text and call each other, she comes and watches my games and gives me tips on how I play,” Jenna told titans.com.au in February.
“My favourite thing about Karina is that she is a leader, she is very inclusive and helps us to be motivated to do the things we like to do."
Her achievements on the field for Australia, Queensland and with the Roosters, Warriors and Titans at NRLW level are substantial, but you get the feeling Brown's greatest satisfaction comes from helping aspiring young players fulfil their dreams.
The announcement this week of a new girls competition on the Gold Coast which will carry her name was further recognition of Brown's contribution to the grassroots.
With under 12 female participation rates on the Gold Coast up by 41 per cent on last year's numbers, 12 clubs have already been approved to take part in the inaugural Karina Brown Challenge.
NRLW Teams: Titans v Broncos
"I remember as a 12-year-old wanting to play rugby league and now there are pathways for girls to play in an all-girls competition and to be the face of that is pretty cool," Brown said.
"Once the NRLW season is over I'll be able to get out into the clubs and talk to the girls. I love going along to the community rugby league.
"I remember being 12 and wishing I had female heroes and to be able to be that for these young girls, I find that really special."
The Veronica White medal winner will be announced on April 10.