St George Illawarra’s Talesha Quinn on why she loves the physicality of rugby league and the importance of being a good role model for younger sportswomen. By Paul Connolly.


Dragons’ slayer: Talesha Quinn, 29, rugby league player

Growing up I watched a lot of league, especially with Mum. I was a [Canterbury] Bulldogs supporter when I was younger. I suppose I still am. People assume because I’m a player with the [St George Illawarra] Dragons now that I’d be a Dragons fan, but I actually go for the Bulldogs.

There was no rugby league for girls in Parkes [NSW], where I grew up, so I played everything else under the sun. Touch footy was my main sport. My parents would have been sick of me playing it and driving me to games. But without touch I wouldn’t be where I am today; there are so many skills that translate to tackle footy.

I wanted to be a vet when I was younger but I don’t think I had the brains. I moved to Wollongong when I was 21 to study population health at Wollongong Uni. I lasted six months before dropping out. I tried wildlife science at Queensland Uni, too, but – and I’m going to sound like a dropout here – that wasn’t for me either.

It was after that that my parents suggested I join the Australian Defence Force. I thought that would be a pretty sick job. Being from the country, the idea of going camping, being able to put on camouflage uniform every day, appealed to me. I could be my natural tomboy self. I enlisted and was posted to Townsville. I love it. It’s like being part of a big family.

It was during my time in Wollongong I got into league. I lived in Berkeley, across the road from an oval. One day I saw a women’s league team, the Berkeley Eagles, training. I walked over and asked if I could play. I’d played league once before when I was 16 but this was different and I loved it immediately. I ended up joining the team.

I love the physicality of league. That’s why I play. Tackling is the best part of the game. I love putting shots on; I love girls putting shots on me. I’ll get up from being hit hard and say, “Good shot”, with a big smile on my face. Some people get aggressive when they get hit and taken down but I appreciate that women can tackle well.

I made a few representative teams out of playing for the Eagles but when I got shipped to Townsville with the ADF I found out there was no women’s league comp up there. I took up rugby union for the contact – I was still hitting people; that was good – but I hated every game because it seemed like I got injured every game. I dislocated a hip, broke my ankle, broke my wrist, broke my thumb, broke my nose.

Last year the Cronulla Sharks [in the Sydney Metropolitan Women’s Rugby League competition] offered me a contract but I thought I couldn’t take it up. But the Defence Force was amazing and transferred me to Sydney so I could play. That was the start of an incredible period. Since then I’ve played for NSW in the first women’s State of Origin game and I represented Australia in the World Cup held in Sydney. Now I’ve been given two months’ paid leave to play with the Dragons in the first women’s NRL competition. I feel so lucky.

I never thought I’d play NRL. I remember seeing the amount of coverage the AFL girls got last year and thinking, in the back of my mind, how great it would be for the NRL to have a women’s comp. That it’s now happening is surreal.

It’s just a four-team comp at this point – and I really feel for Cronulla and South Sydney who missed out – but I think it’s better to start small than go too big too soon and fail. I think it’ll make the girls on the fringes work even harder, which will make the sides even stronger in the future.

At the moment [in terms of salaries] you couldn’t quit your job to play footy. But it’s a start because we’ve played so long without money, and had to sacrifice so much to do it. Some girls lost their jobs because they were playing in the World Cup. Girls before us have had to pay their own accommodation, their own flights, their own uniform costs. They’ve had to pay money to play for their country. To even know girls are getting some money now is great.

I hope that in five to 10 years it becomes a professional competition. There is so much talent coming through now and it would be really exciting to see if we become full-time how far we’ll be able to go in the sport. It’s crazy for me knowing I am a role model for girls out there, and it’s hard to understand how much influence we now have on the younger girls coming through. So I think it’s important for us live up to that.

This week’s highlights…

Horseracing: Golden Rose Day

Saturday, 1st race 12.10pm (AEST), Rosehill Gardens, Sydney

AFL: Preliminary final 2 – West Coast Eagles v Melbourne

Saturday, 1.20pm (AWST), Optus Stadium, Perth

NRLW: Sydney Roosters v St George Illawarra Dragons

Saturday, 5.10pm (AEST), Allianz Stadium, Sydney

NRL: Preliminary final 2 – Sydney Roosters v South Sydney Rabbitohs

Saturday, 7.40pm (AEST), Allianz Stadium, Sydney

• Basketball: FIBA Women’s World Cup

Until September 30, San Cristóbal de la Laguna and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain

Motorsport: Aragón MotoGP

Sunday, 10pm (AEST), Motorland Aragón, Alcañiz, Spain

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 22, 2018 as "Dragons’ slayer".

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Paul Connolly is a freelance journalist and the editor of the anthology Father Figures.

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