Siren Collaborator Mary Konstantopoulos speaks to Newcastle Knight Krystal Rota’s complicated journey to be able to take the field for the side’s inaugural NRLW season.
In July 2021, Krystal Rota was ready to board a plane from New Zealand to Australia to play for the inaugural Newcastle Knights team in the NRL Women’s Premiership.
Rota has two children, a 14 year-old son and an eight year old daughter who were going to stay in New Zealand while their mum pursued her life-long goal of living and training like a professional athlete.
“I had my bags packed and my children were prepared and content with me going,” said Rota. “But then a couple of days before I was meant to leave, I was told to hold off, because there was uncertainty as to how things were going to play out.”
That uncertainty resulted in the NRLW being postponed twice and Rota remaining in New Zealand unsure if the competition would even take place. Then in early 2022, with more certainty about the fixture, Rota prepared herself to do it all over again—only this time it was harder.
“I had to wait a long time and the anxiety of leaving my family started to creep in again,” said Rota. “It was challenging, because after all the work I had done to prepare myself to leave that first time, I felt like I was back at square one.
“The week before I left there were a lot of tears between me and my daughter, I just remember her saying ‘I’m going to miss you mummy’”.
For so many women, putting themselves first is an experience which comes best served with a side of guilt. It was no different for Rota.
“I was feeling quite guilty about leaving my children behind, even though people were telling me that I deserved this time for myself,” said Rota. “I was also worried about leaving the country during a pandemic. In the past, if anything had happened with my children or family, I would have been on the first flight back, that’s just not an option this time.”
But Rota found strength in the words of her son who told her to take her once-in-a lifetime opportunity.
“I broke down in front of my son a week before I was due to leave and he told me that this was an opportunity that I had worked hard for and one that I deserved,” said Rota. “Hearing him say those words made me so proud of him and gave me the courage to get on that plane.”
Now that Rota has been in Newcastle for a couple of weeks, her and her children have had the chance to settle. Rota’s children are looking forward to seeing mum on the field and they are all looking forward to spending time together when Rota comes home.
Until then, Rota is focused on an NRLW season with the Knights.
The Knights are a team that may be flying under the radar at the moment simply because so many members of their squad are from New Zealand and may not be as well known to Australian footy fans. But for Rota, that means less pressure on a squad that has only recently been able to come together for the first time.
“Flying under the radar means we stay in the dark and keep doing our work without any pressure to perform to other people’s expectations.” said Rota. “I don’t worry about any outside noise either. I am at a point in my career where I can do that because of so many years of learning to deal with it.”
Having a women’s team is a big deal for Newcastle because it’s no secret that Novocastrians love their rugby league. In fact, Rota and some of her teammates have even started getting recognised on the street—something which Rota has never experienced in New Zealand despite playing at the highest level. The significance of playing in the Knights inaugural team is not lost on Rota.
While the focus is on winning a premiership, when Rota looks back on this inaugural season, she is hoping to remember the cohesion that the Knights had as a team.
“I hope to look back and be proud of what we have created as the inaugural Newcastle Knights team. When I leave here, I want to make sure we set a strong foundation for the future teams which will follow after us.
“I want to set a good foundation for that next generation so the club can keep building in the future.”