Brisbane Bronco Chelsea Lenarduzzi speaks to official Siren Collaborator Mary Konstantopoulos about boldly pushing for success and challenging the stereotypes of ambitious women in sport.
With the NRL Women’s Premiership set to kick off this week, many have identified the Brisbane Broncos as the team to beat.
It’s no surprise the Broncos have a target on their back. They are the reigning premiers, have won the premiership three times and in the three years that the NRLW has been contested, the Broncos have only lost one game. Additionally, with the likes of Ali Brigginshaw, Tamika Upton, Tarryn Aitken and Millie Boyle in the team, it’s hard to imagine the Broncos taking a backward step this year.
But for Broncos front-rower Chelsea Lenarduzzi, 2021 is a new year—past results don’t matter.
“What is great about our team this year is that we have plenty of players who haven’t played in the NRLW yet,” said Lenarduzzi. “This team hasn’t done anything. We don’t go into this season thinking we are at the top because we are a new team as well.”
Much has been made of the Broncos ability to keep their core group of players together. Last year when it was announced by the NRL that another three teams would be added to the NRLW, the Parramatta Eels, Newcastle Knights and Gold Coast Titans, a system was proposed which if successful, would redistribute the talent.
This system saw the NRL offer central contracts to the top twenty-four players, with the idea being that four players would go to each of the six clubs. Some agreed to shift for the ‘good of the game’. Others did not and instead, decided to forgo the money offered under the central contract and negotiate with other clubs.
For many of the Broncos women who remained, there was plenty of discussion about their motives. Some were very connected to the club, particularly those who had been there since the inaugural season did not want to leave a culture and a team that they helped to build. Others stayed because their mates played in the team. If you aren’t being paid like a full time professional athlete, you might as well play with your mates, right?
But for some Broncos women they stayed because they want to win and be part of a successful team. For Lenarduzzi, this competitiveness and hunger to win should be embraced.
“I’m not going to lie, we want to win the competition,” said Lenarduzzi. “When it comes to women’s sport in general, sometimes that desire to win gets forgotten because there is an expectation that female athletes should be grateful for any opportunity they get.
“When I retire, I want to look back on my career and know that I did everything to be the most successful that I could be.”
This requirement to make personal sacrifices to ‘grow the game’ is something that Lenarduzzi thinks is almost unique to women’s sport, particularly in the major codes. This is compounded because while some male athletes may make a financial decision to move clubs, because our female athletes are not full time professional athletes, this choice is not yet available to them.
“You would never ask one of the male players if they care about winning, of course everyone wants to win the competition,” said Lenarduzzi. “A lot of the women in our team have that mentality. Winning is very important to us.”
Lenarduzzi’s comments play into a narrative about how we perceive our female athletes. Qualities like compassion, kindness and humility are celebrated in women’s sport and we admire women who are positive role models on and off the field. These qualities are important, but additionally there needs to be space for women who don’t necessarily fit that mould.
“I don’t think that ruthlessness, aggression and competitiveness is expected enough in women’s sport, perhaps because if women behave in a certain way they are considered catty,” said Lenarduzzi. “In men’s sport, if there is a bit of push and shove, the fans love it because they see passion and competitiveness, if women did that I am not sure that the reaction would be the same.
“I grew up watching a lot of sport and one thing the best teams and best rivalries have is that ruthlessness. Think about someone like Michael Jordan. He wasn’t very nice but people idolise him.”
The commencement of the NRLW marks a big year for women’s footy. With two NRLW seasons, state competitions, a State of Origin series and a Rugby League World Cup at the end of the year, 2022 will see these women play more footy than ever before.
While it will be extremely important to manage load, Lenarduzzi sees a real opportunity, particularly as it will give the women competing in the NRLW more time in their high performance environments.
“It has got to the point where we need to just go bang,” said Lenarduzzi. “We need to play as much footy as we can because that’s what is going to help grow the game.
“The extra games are awesome, so is State of Origin and the World Cup. It’s great exposure and I am really looking forward to it.”