What got you into rugby league?
My family. We grew up in a Rugby League household – I have two older brothers (Deon and Ryan) and we use to play footy in the backyard all the time. They both played Junior Rugby League for the Bega Roosters, and my dad also played. I wanted to be like them and they encouraged me to sign up at the age of 8. (Mum wasn’t too impressed haha).
Did you ever think representing your country would be a possibility when you were playing as a kid?
Not at all. When I was growing up, girls playing with the boys was so rare – only 2 or 3 girls played back then in Group 16. We were only allowed to play with the boys until we turned 12, after which point there was no competitions for us to go into. I always thought it was so unfair and joked, "If only I was a boy, I could play Rugby League..." In reality though I never thought I would play in a competition, let alone for my state and country.
When did you realise you could make a go of it professionally?
After I finished at the age of 11 I didn’t start playing again until I was 21 (2012), through league tag for the Bega Roosters.
In 2013 I was watching the news and saw a quick 10 second snippet of the 2013 Jillaroos winning the World Cup for the first time. It was a light bulb moment – all of a sudden I learnt women’s rugby league did in fact exist! I immediately grabbed my computer to search for a club I could play for an soon after signed up with the Helensburgh Tiger Lillies.
In 2014 I re-started my rugby league journey, travelling from Bega to Helensburgh every week to play, which was a 5.5 hour drive each way! It wasn't until I was selected to play for NSW later in the year that I thought “I must be going OK” and started pushing myself to make the Australian team.
I worked really hard and was lucky enough to wear the green and gold jersey in a Test match against New Zealand at the end of 2014.
The game back then wasn’t really professional, but a lot had improved from previous years. Over the last two years things have started to really kick on.
Is rugby a full time job for you or do you balance it with additional work?
Rugby League is not a full time job (I wish)…we are 'semi-professional'.
We have access to the best coaches, strength and conditioning staff, physios, wellbeing managers etc, but still have to work full time to survive and train around our work commitments. I am lucky I work with the NRL’s St George Illawarra Dragons in their community department, so I get to go to schools and talk about health and wellbeing with the programs we run.
Do you think NRLW’s popularity is growing amongst women?
Yes, it definitely is – the more exposure we are getting, the more women are wanting to play the sport.
I think the women’s game is growing by something like 30% every year, which is amazing. There are definitely more opportunities arising for women in rugby league that may not be available in other sports.
What was the process like coming back from injury a couple of years ago, did you think there was a possibility you might not get to play at the same level again?
Yes that definitely crossed my mind, especially when I broke my leg in 2017. Before then I had never had a serious injury.
The first few weeks were really hard – I was in a pretty dark place – but I soon turned that around after getting some perspective from my cousin who became a paraplegic following a snowboarding accident. After we spoke I thought to myself: “My leg will heal, I will walk again, I will run again and I will play footy again…Jason might not be able to walk ever again. Stop being silly Kezie!”
Once I started controlling what I could control and stopped worrying about the final outcome, my rehab went well. I stuck to my program, was back on the field four months later and was lucky enough to be selected to the 2017 NSW State of Origin team (which we went on to win).
Mentally it was (and sometimes is) a huge battle. Last year I broke my leg again in a Test against New Zealand. I was devastated, but in a much better head space the second time around and knew what needed to be done.
I had already proven to myself that I could overcome a serious injury, and this one wasn’t as bad, so I put my head down and got on with it. Each time you get hurt though it is really difficult…everything stops and you have to start again.
What does a regular week of training look like for you?
At the moment we’re in the middle of preseason for the NRLW Dragons so there is plenty happening.
My week looks like this:
Monday – ankle & knee prehab, flexibility and mobility
Tuesday – Dragons training (gym and field sessions)
Wednesday – Dragons training (field session, contact, conditioning)
Thursday – Helensburgh training
Friday – Dragons training (Captains run)
Saturday – club footy game
Sunday – rest day (ocean swim, recovery)
What practices or habits outside of physical training help with your performance?
I practice mindfulness…being in the present moment.
I try to use this before I go to sleep at night, especially if work has been pretty full on and there’s a lot going on in my head. I listen to an app called “Smiley Mind” and do a meditation session which sets me up for a great night’s sleep.
Tell me a bit about Footy Colours Day and why the cause is so important to you?
Footy Colours Day is a campaign that helps support kids living with cancer. Among other things it helps the kids continue their education during treatment and recovery.
One of my best friends passed away from cancer in 2016 and to see what she went through was so heart breaking. When you add to that these kids ages it’s hard to imagine – they should be running around outside with their friends, enjoying their childhoods, not stuck in a hospital with everything that comes with it. Any support we can give these kids and their families makes a huge difference. It’s something I am proud to be involved with and really passionate about. Check it out at FightCancer.org.au!