Official Siren Sport Collaborator Mary Konstantopoulos catches up with St George Illawarra Dragons’ Rachael Pearson to talk about her journey to the NRLW and beyond.
Ahead of the 2021 NRL Women’s season, there were some significant changes at the St George Illawarra Dragons; a new coach in Jamie Soward and the departure of some well-known players including Sam Bremner, Isabelle Kelly, Tiana Penitani and Jessica Sergis.
With the departure of all that talent and several relatively unknown players included in the squad for the first time, many predicted that the Dragons would perform poorly and miss the finals completely.
That prediction could not have been further from the eventual result, with the Dragons reaching the NRLW Grand Final, just falling short of a historic first Premiership with a 16-4 loss to the Sydney Roosters.
Halfback Rachael Pearson, was one of those new players and a key reason why the Dragons progressed as far as they did. She delighted audiences in her debut season with her remarkable ability to control the play and her deft kicking game.
While there is plenty of focus in women’s rugby league on the next generation of talent coming through, Pearson is a fitting example of the importance of determination and perseverance when pursuing sport at the elite level.
Her rugby league journey started when she was 17, in Hay. “I played League Tag and was captain/coach for six years,” said Pearson. “When I turned 24, I realised that rugby league was taking off for women so it was now or never. I decided to give it a go.”
In 2019, Pearson moved to Wollongong to live with her brother and started playing for the Helensburgh Tigers in the Illawarra competition.
In 2021, the Tigers made a significant decision to move up from the Illawarra competition into the Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership.
While Helensburgh only featured for one season in that competition before dropping back to the Illawarra competition, Pearson credits the club’s decision to move up as significant in her footy career.
“It helped me get to where I am now. I had the opportunity to play against some great players and really develop my footy skills.”
Pearson was then given an opportunity at the Dragons in this year’s NRLW season, alongside new talent like Tegan Dymock and Taliah Fuimaono and Emma Tonegato, who joined the Dragons from Rugby Sevens.
Then, there has also been coach Soward’s influence on Pearson as a playmaker.
“He’s great,” said Pearson. “I only met him at the start of the year and we had a bit of a kick of the footy, but he has been really good for me.
“He has always said that he backs me and is in my corner—he probably has even more belief in me than I do of myself.
“He is also very direct in what he wants from me on the field, but he’s a great person and mentor off the field too.”
Pearson’s impressive form in the NRLW has also been rewarded, with New South Wales Blues coach Kylie Hilder including Pearson in her 2022 State of Origin squad.
For Pearson, it is an incredible reward for a year of footy she is extremely proud of.
“This year has just been so exciting for me, for my family and for everyone back home. It was so exciting to get the call from Kylie Hilder and an honour to be rewarded for my NRLW season and be given the opportunity to go to the next level.
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“It’s a great thing to be part of and I can’t wait to get into training with the rest of the Blues squad.
“We are coming off the back of playing against each other so to have the chance to come off the buzz of the NRLW season into some training and camps is just so exciting for women’s footy.”
Despite being from the country, Pearson has enjoyed incredible support from her family throughout her debut NRLW season.
“My dad, brother, sister, their partners and some friends all came up to cheer me on in the Grand Final, even after having their plane delayed in Canberra and having to fly up on the day of the Grand Final,” said Pearson.
“I had at least one family member for each game of the NRLW and it was so nice to have that support.”
There’s no doubt that should Pearson be selected in the team to take on the Queensland Maroons on June 24, that she’ll enjoy plenty more of that support in the stands in Canberra.