Gold Coast Titans star Karina Brown has edged out Parramatta Eels captain Simaima Taufa for the 2021 Veronica White Medal in recognition of her efforts to inspire and mentor young female athletes.
Brown received the award before Sunday’s 2021 NRLW grand final at Moreton Daily Stadium, where she was to perform ‘She’s Got Confidence’ – the song the 33-year-old teamed with ARIA-nominated vocalist Jess Harlen to produce.
In an indication of the high standard of nominations for the 2021 Veronica White Medal, the judging panel – chaired by ARLC commissioner Tony McGrath - were split for the first time between Brown and Taufa.
Brisbane Broncos forward Tallisha Harden and young Sydney Roosters back Jocelyn Kelleher were also finalists.
Other members of the judging panel included White, the former Australian Women’s Rugby League president and representative pioneer, ARL Indigenous Council chair Katrina Fanning and RLPA CEO Clint Newton.
The Tonga-born star's influence in the community extends from club programs in western Sydney to the Pacific nation, where she has helped deliver the Voice Against Violence program aimed at reducing domestic violence and regularly donates playing kits to junior teams.
She will receive $3500 as will her charity, the Karina Brown Challenge.
“Karina has a passion for not only playing at the elite level but importantly for inspiring others,” said NRL CEO Andrew Abdo.
“The power of Karina’s strong message to young girls that they can be their true self and succeed is an important one not just for females in rugby league but for young people everywhere.
“Whether it be on the field, on a stage or out of the spotlight, Karina constantly inspires others to follow their own path, even if it may not always fit with society’s expectations.
“Karina sometimes travels for hours in her own time, mentoring and supporting young female players at games.
“She is a role model and making a positive difference to people’s lives.”
Among the things that impressed about Brown is her willingness to continually put herself in the spotlight, regardless of criticism or personal attacks, in a bid to inspire others.
She is a leading advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights and the importance of inclusion for females, gender and sexually diverse people and people with disabilities.
At the Titans NRLW launch last June, Brown met five young girls who play on the Gold Coast and has since been attending games and training sessions, giving them tips and advice.
Brown had no formal voice training but wrote and produced 'She's Got Confidence' with Harlen and The Boy of Many Colors to show girls and young women that anything is achievable.
Brown's nomination for the Veronica White Medal was endorsed by Queensland Origin coach Tahnee Norris, who played alongside the winger at the 2013 World Cup.
"Karina is extremely passionate and dedicated about rugby league, female participation and inclusion," Norris said.
"She is incredibly supportive of young female rugby league players and she continually supports, trainers and mentors young players in her own personal time.
"Karina has been an instrumental part in the women's competition in South-East Queensland. She has worked tremendously hard with Burleigh Bears and Easts Tigers to build women's teams and the foundation of the extremely competitive and talented women's competition in South-East Queensland.
"Not only is Karina extremely dedicated and passionate about female participation, she works extremely hard to ensure inclusion and equity are major parts of the game.
"Karina wrote and recorded her own song, 'She's Got Confidence', specifically for young women and telling them they can do anything they dream of.
"She is also a major spokesperson for LGBTQIA+ rights in and out of the game and pushes for equity throughout the game.
"Karina went from working full-time to cutting her role down to part-time to ensure she can keep volunteering in the community and in the game, supporting her team-mates and mentoring young females in the game."