A vocation that came by a complete accident. An accident, that I wouldn’t change for the world.

Blossoming from being a full-time dancer, the cards totally flipped, along with my lifestyle and choices. Longing to try a new sport, my original plan was to fall in-line with the family and play soccer. I wasn’t accepted into my local Figtree team, which at the time was heart-breaking as I would’ve been given the opportunity to play with my high school best friend.

It was fitting that I was able to search for a different sport and league tag came to mind. I invested myself into the sport for a whole two years, but shortly after the 2018 season came to an end, the first opportunity to play tackle arose.The roots of my rugby league career began when I came across a local promotional session to try the sport. At the time I didn’t know it, but it was run by my now current rugby league coach, as well as my previous coach from the Tarsha Gale competition, Alysha Janssen.

Janssen was seeking potential female players to join her team and she recommenced I took part in a local competition known as ‘November 9s’. It was a four-week annual rugby league competition for females to try out the sport and an opportunity for experienced coaches and scouts to seek players with potential to move up and play at a representative level. Playing in the November 9s according to my coach was a “backyard version of footy”, which settled my nerves but a feeling of trepidation helped fuel my fire. When you’re about to run onto the field to play your first ever game a multitude of thoughts begin to conspire, overriding everything until the nerves begin to crawl underneath your skin. Although I was filled with enjoyment, this positivity was diminished as it wasn’t fully supported by my friends and my family was either scared for me or against me playing, simply for the fact that I am not the tallest person!

Being raised in a Catholic community and religious high school, Holy Spirit College in Bellambi, it was a struggle to be given the freedom to play Rugby League with minimal judgement. Along with a family who predominantly supports the young ones to play soccer and just coming out of a competitive career in dance, the attempt to try this rough sport began with several complications.

I felt in a way I had to find a level of talent and skill for the sport to be able to prove everyone wrong. That was the starting point to my successful career. At the conclusion of the November 9s competition, I was scouted from Alysha to come and try out for the Tarsha Gale Under 18s, representing the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. I was in shock and immediately accepted and am still extremely grateful for this opportunity. I was thrown straight into the deep end and had to play at a representative level after only a month of experience. I quickly adapted to the lifestyle of what it meant to play at a pre-professional level which meant training twice a week, a game day, as well as meetings where we discussed our careers outside the game. We were taken care of which was a blessing. I felt like I was dreaming.

Although the score board displayed a different image to what might be called a successful season, results never mattered to me, my teammates or our coaching staff. We aspired to improve our skills and techniques at training. This is what we achieved in the long run. Overall, as a developing player in the game and as a woman, I am extremely grateful to those who led me to the position I am in today. At the end of the day, I will always remember the opportunity I was given to play at a pre-professional level, which I am now able to take into every game I play with my local club back in Wollongong.

It was always stated by my coaches that no matter what, you always keep your chin up for two reasons. One, it saves a little bit of energy, and two, it teaches you discipline, to never give up.

Rugby League not only taught me to tackle harder and pass the ball faster, but it also taught me discipline. The game taught me to support one another, to have each other’s back when someone is struggling. I owe everything to the game.

WORDS: Ava Katselos