Siren Sport Collaborator Mary Konstantopoulos chats to Kennedy Cherrington about her passion for speaking up for others ahead of the Parramatta Eels’ inaugural NRLW season.
After what has felt like the longest pre-season in history, Kennedy Cherrington and the inaugural Parramatta Eels Women’s team have started pre-season training.
Due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the competition has already been delayed twice resulting in a blockbuster year of women’s rugby league in 2022 which will feature two NRLW seasons.
“We were the last team to come together last year because 90 per cent of the squad lived in impacted Sydney LGAs,” said Cherrington.
“It was really refreshing when we first started coming together because it felt like our first step toward wanting to take out this season. Now that we have started training, we have flipped a switch; we have a common goal and we are going about our pre-season in a really professional way.
“I’ve been part of a lot of teams and this one has a nice feeling, it feels like something special is brewing.”
In the lead up to the 2022 NRLM season, there has been plenty of conversation about how the pandemic is going to impact the season. Players will have restrictions imposed upon them, including not being able to go to indoor venues and that visitors to their homes will be required to undertake a RAT test before entry.
Many have forgotten, or are simply unaware, that these restrictions also apply to the women competing in the NRLW. It seems a lot to ask of these women who are not paid like full-time professional athletes, are expected to compete at the elite level with many of them having jobs which require them to be indoors. Unlike the men, most of these women have jobs away from football and/or attend university or TAFE.
As a Parramatta Eels delegate to the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA), Cherrington has been privy to the conversations between the NRL and the RLPA, acting as a conduit between the RLPA and her team mates. This opportunity to be a delegate is a new one for Cherrington after she found her voice following the second postponement of the NRLW last year.
Following the postponement, Cherrington was vocal in her disappointment on social media and stepped into an advocacy role.
“Ever since I was in high school, I have felt like I am someone who speaks my mind, whether it’s popular or not,” said Cherrington. “I want to speak up for people that aren’t heard.”
Cherrington adds that nerves also played a part in navigating how to use her voice for her fellow athletes.
“I was nervous speaking out, and was constantly battling demons in my head about whether to post or not. Part of me was thinking, ‘you can’t say anything, you are just a nobody, shut up’, but then the other part of me had a gut instinct that I just needed to say something.”
As an athlete in the women’s game where a contract only lasts one season and so many of these women put so much on the line just to compete, Cherrington was worried what speaking out might do. Would it result in a loss of her contract?
Fortunately, Cherrington had plenty of support around her encouraging her to use her voice including her family, friend and now teammate Maddie Studdon, and importantly the inaugural coach of the Parramatta Eels NRLW team, Dean Widders.
“Dean was really supportive,” said Cherrington. “He is all for speaking up given how much advocacy he has done about Indigenous people in Australia. He said that we are the ones playing the game and to do what felt right. I took that advice on board and that’s exactly what I did.”
Fortunately, as Cherrington has continued to speak out, her confidence has grown.
“I just keep getting more confident,” said Cherrington. “My intention was to help others, not just myself and certainly not to look good on social media. It’s good to be more at ease with the decisions I’m making and to feel more comfortable speaking out.”
For now, Cherrington is really enjoying getting to know her new team mates, not just for their footy ability but for the women they are off the field.
“We have mums in our team, people with different background stories and some women who have sacrificed a lot to be here. It’s good to get the chance to get to know who people really are, away from their footy.”
Cherrington is also relishing the ability to be at a club like Parramatta.
“This has been the toughest pre-season I have ever been part of and even though it’s hard, I know it is a step in the right direction for the women’s game.” said Cherrington.
“The club has also made us feel extremely welcome. The social media team recently sent out a PowerPoint with photos of the men and the women, so that all the staff know who we are. It feels like they respect us the same way they respect the men which is so important.”