Siren Collaborator Mary Konstantopoulos speaks to Georgia Hale about her NRLW season at the Titans and hopes for a New Zealand Warriors return to the league.
The 2021 edition of the NRL Women’s competition saw three new teams introduced—the Parramatta Eels, Gold Coast Titans and Newcastle Knights.
It’s one thing for the athletes in these teams to be given the opportunity to access training facilities, high performance training and coaching, and the tools necessary to succeed on the field, but it’s another to feel like a club has really wrapped its arms around a new team and made these athletes feel truly welcome.
‘Truly welcome’ is what Georgia Hale felt during her season with the Titans.
“We would come into the sheds win or lose and have our CEO, club owners and board members clapping us on every single game,” said Hale. “When we had to travel, our CEO would be the first to be at the airport, just so excited about the weekend ahead.
“Through the week at training, we would have staff come down and sit on the sidelines waving their flags. It’s been so impressive to see the club take the first steps with the introduction of this women’s team and to see how naturally a beautiful environment has been created.”
The Titans had an exciting first season. Led by Jamie Feeney, the team was the only one out of the three new clubs to play finals footy and managed to showcase some incredible talent.
At 40 years of age, Stephanie Hancock was one of the oldest players in the competition, but managed to score a double in the semi-final against the St George Illawarra Dragons. Former Australian 7s player Evania Pelite also joined the Titans and gave us a glimpse into the future of what is possible when female athletes are given the chance to focus on their craft as full-time professional athletes, as she did when she was part of the 7s program.
For Hale, it was this mix of talent which helped the Titans to succeed on the field.
“We really wanted more time together, because when you looked around the playing group there was so much talent and so much potential because of the mixture of experience we had,” said Hale.
“There were experienced players who had the knowledge and set the example and then the next generation of players coming through that have so much to look forward to and an established pathway to aspire to.
“It was a special place to be because footy was fun alongside friends, everyone is just a legend on and off the field.”
This is not Hale’s first season in the NRLW. Hale has played for the New Zealand Warriors in past seasons, but when it was announced that the Warriors would no longer be participating, Hale had a difficult decision to make. After relocating to the Gold Coast for the Warriors 2020 campaign and staying on the Gold Coast at the end of the season to join her partner who also plays for the Titans in the NRL Men’s competition, the Titans seemed a natural fit for Hale too.
“I have really loved it here at the Titans,” said Hale.
“I’ve had very strong history with the Warriors and I was gutted they didn’t make an appearance this year, but to be able to play for the area where I have settled in in Australia is a great opportunity.”
Hale is hopeful that while the Warriors made the decision not to participate in the 2021 season, the news of NRLW expansion might mean that they return to the competition in due course.
For Hale, their inclusion is extremely important to demonstrate to the next generation of women in New Zealand that there is a pathway for them.
“If you are from New Zealand, to make NRLW you really have to make the move back over to Australia and really commit to your footy. Back home our games aren’t filmed, so you have to be proactive and make sure you are putting yourself out there and really selling yourself.
“For the Warriors the next step is probably getting the men’s team back home and giving them the chance to make New Zealand home again, and then I hope it will be easier for them to put their hands up for a women’s team again.”
While Hale is proud of Titans efforts this season, she is already looking forward to season 2022 which is just a couple of months away. But for the moment, Hale is taking it one step at a time. Because she is not in contention for the New South Wales Blues or Queensland Maroons in State of Origin, her focus now turns to the local Queensland competition where she plays for the Tweed Seagulls.
“This is an important period to go back and enjoy my club footy and reconnect there,” said Hale. “Without club footy, we wouldn’t have the same foundation to lead us into the NRLW, so I’m looking forward to playing for the Seagulls.”
The NRLW contracting period has just opened up again, so it’s unclear at this stage where Hale will be playing in the 2022 season, but if it is for the Titans, she knows there is opportunity for improvement.
“I’m looking forward to what’s to come and to see what the Titans do and change ahead of the next season,” said Hale.
“There will be a time to reflect on the highs and lows of our 2021 season and then closer to the time, start prepping for season 2022.”