Watching them battle it out the footy field, anyone would think that Talesha Quinn and Meg Ward were arch-rivals. But once that final State of Origin siren sounds, it’s a very different story: the QLD second row and NSW centre/wing/fullback are actually thick as thieves.
Bonding over their positions in the Australian Defence Force and selection for the Jillaroos, Talesha and Meg have been close for years. Here, the Harvey Norman ambassadors tell WH what they love about the game and why they’re so excited for the future of women’s rugby league.
Current club team and state team?
Talesha: Mounties, NSW
Meg: Souths Magpies, QLD
National team and position?
Talesha: Austalian jillaroos, second row
Meg: Australian Jillaroos, centre/wing/full back
How many years have you been playing?
Talesha: 4 years
Meg: 2 years
When was the first time you touched a football on a field?
Talesha: I grew up playing touch football since I was 5 so from when I can remember. So, I was lucky enough to transfer a lot of my skills from touch football into rugby league. First time I touched a Rugby league ball I played my first game when I was 16 played for country NSW at Leichhardt oval. I got scouted through touch football and asked to give it a crack. Had one training session before being thrown into a game. And a rep game at that. But after that game, I fell in love with it. My mother is a mad rugby league lover, I have 2 brothers but I am the only one on the family to play or have played rugby league.
Meg: First Rugby League game was at the start of 2016 in the Northern Territory, Darwin, where I was posted with work. I had always been a sporty person, went to a trial session in Katherine where I worked and got selected for NT Titans from there
Why did you chose rugby league instead of say, netball?
Talesha: When I was in year 6 I played 6 different sports for western area rep level. Cross country athletics touch football hockey cricket and netball. So I was a really sporty child with a lot of support from both my parents. I needed to commit to one sport so I stuck to touch football. I never had the option to play rugby league being from the country and being a female at that age. When I moved to Wollongong in 2011 I moved next door to a rugby league field not having played since I was 16. I seen a girls team running around and I walked over joined in with the Berkeley’s eagles girls and feel straight back in love with it. That’s where my rep level took off.
Meg: I grew up playing soccer, was never good at netball. I started to get a little rough in soccer and was after a change so I went to Rugby Union and then once I moved to the NT I began League.
Do you remember your first try or tackle?
Talesha: I remember my first try for Australia it was in my first ever game for the jillaroos in the World Cup. Could not believe it as me being a second rower we don’t get the opportunity too often to score tries. I remember my first tackle I was a little intimidated especially playing against much bigger and older girls. But now tackling of my favourite part of the game.
Meg: First try in the NT was a chip and chase when I played my first game for Northern Sharks in the NT.
Does rugby still mean as much to you now as it did when you started playing?
Talesha: I feel I fall in love with the sport more and more. Especially the more I represent or go around to the communities and do school visits. You see just how much it means to these people and being a role model for kids is what it’s all about. So if I’m not playing rugby league I’m training for it watching it or promoting it.
Meg: It means more. This game has given me so many opportunities as well as making so many amazing friends along the way. I love playing and I still get as excited for a club game as I did my first game.
Is rugby league any different for men vs women?
Talesha: I don’t think so. Not at all. The passion and love is exactly the same. It’s all about trying to promote it so we can grow this great game and give females all the same opportunities as the men. It’s amazing to see so many more females teams now.
Meg: There’s definitely some differences but we still play the same rules.
What do you think the public perception is of women playing rugby?
Talesha: I feel like the more people get the opportunity to see the females playing rugby league the more excited they are, as in the past it hasn’t been widely broadcast or spoken about. I’ve had nothing but positivity when it comes to me and my football. Everyone is so amazed by how we play rugby league. Hopefully, people continue to support the women’s game and give girls more opportunities.
Meg: We have had nothing but positive response from the public. World Cup, State of Origin, NRLW and Test Matches have all been highly spoken about
Last year’s State of Origin was broadcast live and got a lot of media coverage – why do you think interest has suddenly piqued?
Talesha: Last year’s state of origin for me was the best crowd and atmosphere I’ve played at. I had goosebumps getting off the bus and seeing little girls with posters. It was so surreal. We were so lucky to be broadcast live and prime time. A lot of people hadn’t been aware the game was on and stumbled across the game and are now massive fans. Last year was a big year for women’s rugby league having nationals champs, talent id days, and announcement of the women’s Nrl, so the media coverage is improving and making young girls want to play rugby league.
Meg: It is so crazy exciting how pumped people have become about the Women’s State of Origin. People who tuned in on TV or came to the game were all asking when’s the next game? Where is it? Why isn’t there 3 games? This year is in Sydney again and it’s only going to get bigger and the followers grow. That makes it so exciting for the next generation to know the audience is growing.
Is playing State of Origin more important to you than club games? Or does national surpass them both?
Talesha: It’s such an honour to able to put on any rugby league jersey for me. Obviously playing NSW and Australia is an absolute honour and you can’t beat that. But any time I play rugby league whether it be my local club Mounties for ADF or Australia I always am so grateful to even be a part of the game.
Meg: There’s no greater feeling then putting on that Australian Jersey and singing the anthem in front of all your family, friends and supporters. However, no matter the jersey you put on, who you’re playing for, when or where, we all play for the love of the game. We play as hard for club as we do for the Jillaroos. No matter who your representing you always give 110% and do it with pride.
How many times have you played for the Harvey Norma Jillaroos? What has been the highlight?
Talesha: I’ve been to PNG and played in the prime ministers 13s twice now which was an amazing experience, especially to play around so many young and up and coming talented athletes. But test caps I’ve played 3 games during the World Cup in 2017. Highlight for me personally would be receiving my jumper, knowing everything I had worked so hard for and sacrifices I had made had all payed off. Then scoring my first Aussie try in my first game was pretty special.
Meg: I was fortunate enough to represent the Jillaroos through the World Cup in 2017. This was one of the greatest experiences of my life. A had so many highlights during the campaign, winning with girls is definitely one but also seeing all the young girls running up to us, the excitement on their face and hearing them say I want to play for Australia one day. Also having my family and friends with me during it all.
You are both members of the Australian Defence Force. Can you tell us what you do and how the ADF work around your training schedule?
Talesha: I’m in the army full time as an operator supply. Been in for 6 years now. The army have been absolutely amazing with me and achieving my dreams of playing with the jillaroos. ADF are extremely supportive of their soldiers being physically active and playing sports. I’ve been on an elite athlete program for 3 years in the army, which means I got posted from Townsville down to Sydney in 2017 where I then had the opportunity to play rugby league full time. As Townsville did not have a local level rugby competition. I am allowed to train in the mornings in my own completed my rugby league programs. I’m also allowed to go out into the communities and schools to promote rugby league and the army. What other jobs pays you to play rugby league? Not many. I’ve very, very lucky.
Meg: I am a firefighter and the Air Force. They are so incredibly accommodating. I am currently at 23SQN, Brisbane (QLD) and was previously at 17SQN in Katherine (NT). Everyone at the fire section and in the SQNs have continuously been so supportive of everything I have been fortunate enough to achieve. They always help me cover shifts and are always sending messages of support. I am so fortunate to work with people who are so supportive.
You’re obviously great mates with each other, but when you’re on the field – especially in State of Origin - does that mateship still apply?
Talesha: I absolutely love meg. She has a heart of gold and would do anything for anyone. This is why I play rugby league to meet people like her. We will always be mates regardless of what team we play for. We are obviously competing which is awesome because it makes us both push harder. We are both very competitive people as well which makes it more fun. After the origin game meg was really emotional and I hated seeing her hurting. We hugged it out at the end and tried to make her smile. Consider myself lucky to have played in the first ever origin with her, and she has come so far and continues to improve as a player.
Meg: You never lose that mateship. During State of Origin we are representing our states, representing our families so we always play with passion. We play hard against each other, neither of us hold back but once the game ends I always know that I have made a true friend in T and whatever happens on the field stays on the field.
Is there anything else you have in common besides rugby league and ADF?
Talesha: Definitely not our eye brow game haha she beats me in that. I think our love for the game and our friends are very similar. We are both always there for our mates and each other, regardless of how far away we are. We both love Shania Twain which is always a good way to unwind.
Meg: We are both blonde and ridiculously good looking haha. We have lots in common on and off the field. I love that I have been able to find such a great friend through playing the sport I love.
Do you have any advice for young girls who may be thinking about getting involved with rugby league?
Talesha: Don’t let anything hold you back. You’ll never regret picking up a rugby league ball, the mates you make, the skills you learn and the places you get to travel are only a few of the amazing things about rugby league. The game will only expand and get bigger and it’ll never let you down.
Meg: When you are young, the main thing about footy and sport, in general, is having fun. Making friendships and enjoying playing whatever it is that you like. You shouldn’t have all the pressures of being the best… I have always found I play my best footy when I am having fun.
What do you say to people who believe that women are too feminine to play as tough as men?
Talesha: It’s not about women league players being as tough as men, it should be looked at by the skill of the women playing the game. The sheer determination and guts displayed by the women is in itself, something worth watching. Obviously, men can lift heavier weights and bench press greater numbers - physically they are born different to women but that doesn’t mean they have better skills than what women players can display. men train day in and day out. Women have full-time jobs and only get to train around those hours. Just imagine how the women’s game can grow, and the skills, strength and speed of those athletes improve if they were paid enough to survive without having to work.
Meg: I can guarantee the person that says this has never played a game of Rugby League in the women’s competition. I have seen girls with broken bones keep playing just like the men. They are tough and fierce. I would suggest to that person to watch a state of origin or an NRLW match, then I would ask if they still think that.
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