Woman behind Bulldogs girls' success
She's the glue that binds the Canterbury-Bankstown District Junior Rugby League, but there was a time when Lana Brisenden didn't want her son anywhere near the footy field.
"To be honest with you, my son - who's turning 13 this year - when he was four, my husband told me that he was going to take him to play footy and I said 'no you're not…he's too small and he'll get hurt'," she recalled.
"I was working night shift at the time so I went to sleep that afternoon and when I woke up, my son was still awake and I asked him what he was doing and he said 'look what I've got mum!' and my husband had gone down and registered him at the Berala Bears. He had his new boots and his shorts and everything else and I just thought 'oh my god!'
"I figured if he was going to play and if that's what he wanted to do then I would get involved as a parent and do whatever I could to at least be there if something did happen. I managed his under-6s team and basically managed a team every year after that and that's how I first got involved with the game."
Originally with the Auburn Warriors, Brisenden was headhunted by the Bulldogs in 2012 to join their junior league system; an opportunity she gladly accepted.
Since then, she's been an integral contributor on and off the field with Brisenden managing and coordinating development squads for the under-13s and 14s and giving up countless weekends to ensure everything runs smoothly across the district.
Her tireless work in the community saw her receive the CBDJRL Junior League Appreciation Award in 2012, but it's her work with the Bulldogs Tarsha Gale side that really stands out.
Brisenden has seen first-hand how powerful a tool rugby league can be for young women but also the limitations involved. Her daughter – who now plays under-16s – had to give up the game when she was 12 because there was nothing available for her at the time.
That's what made the Tarsha Gale experience so special. The fact the Bulldogs made the grand final of the inaugural under-18s nine-a-side tournament was wonderful, but the notion that there were pathways for women looking to stay in the game was what stayed with Brisenden who managed the team in 2017.
"The whole concept of giving these girls somewhere to go once they do turn 12, that was the biggest step in the women's game," she told NRL.com.
"Last year, my junior league boss approached me about managing the 13s and 14s development squads for the Bulldogs which I keenly accepted.
"Towards the end of the year when we found out we were having a Tarsha Gale team, Gavin Lawrence from the Bulldogs junior league approached me again and asked me if it was something I wanted to be involved with and I jumped at the opportunity.
"I've never played football because back then it wasn't something readily available that girls were encouraged to do, but as far as the paperwork side of things goes, I enjoy doing that and being out on the field with the girls and supporting them where I can.
"It's so important with the world the way it is and the area where we are that if I can volunteer my time and it keeps the kids off the streets and it gives them something to strive towards then I'm a happy person because it builds their self-esteem knowing that there's an opportunity for them. I'd be involved in anything if it gave kids an opportunity to be something they thought they could never be.
"Having daughters of own – a 19-year-old and a 13-year-old – it's just like I've ended up with 18 more daughters. The respect that the girls showed me through their desire to be there and the fact no one was forcing them to come and play, it was a pleasure to be able to work with that group and an honour to be involved with the first Tarsha Gale team."
Their success came as no surprise to Andy Patmore, the Pathways Performance Manager at the Bulldogs, who knew from the moment he met Lana that the club was in safe hands.
"I just went to our junior league secretary and I said that I needed a manager and he recommended her straightaway. It took about a week for me to realise why she'd been recommended because she was just outstanding," he told NRL.com.
"She was super keen to see the girl's game grow because she's got a passion for footy and for the girls. We've got three dominant clubs that have had girls teams over the years and we wanted to make sure those clubs had first crack at rep football, so it was a natural choice to get her involved.
"The girls came from a park footy mentality and we needed them to get to a rep footy level pretty quickly. It was a rushed comp and she brought them up to speed really quickly about what was required of them both on and off the field with how they represented themselves.
"She coordinated that team and had a great relationship with the girls and made sure that they were heading down a path to make them professional. She's extremely well-organised and her role within that team was outstanding.
"She also coordinates all the management of our development groups for 13s, 14s and 15s. The managerial side of what she does is fantastic. She makes sure everyone's at training, works with the parents really well and she makes great chocolate brownies post-game!"
Those famous brownies are generally gone within minutes, but what never runs out is her passion for the club and attention to detail which is kept in check by her trusty clipboard.
"She's got a clipboard in her left hand the whole time she's on the sideline. Whether she's looking after the bench rotations or checking up on me, she keeps attendance on everything there is with that clipboard," Patmore said.
"If you don't have people like Lana then things get loose and systems break down. It makes the coaching job easy and she keeps all of us going."