AS A MOTHER of three boys, Chantal Haua spends a fair bit of time at her local junior rugby league club, the Aspley Devils. Just not in the way you'd expect.
Chantal is not only the women's team captain and manager in the Brisbane and District Women’s Rugby League competition, but she also has the honour of being the first woman selected as the club captain.
“It was an absolute honour, I was blown away,” Chantal said of her appointment.
When compared to team-mates who have progressed from the local school girls’ competition; Chantal is a relative newcomer to playing rugby league.
Despite coming from a junior judo and netball background; it was Chantal who approached the Aspley club in 2011 to establish a women’s team.
“I'd been involved with the club for a while. My dad played and also coached as Aspley and I'd been a manager myself,” she said.
While the club got right behind Chantal and in 2012 entered it's first women's team, the first season was tough.
“That first year it was hard getting players. We struggled, sometimes only playing 14 players, mostly friends and family.”
But Chantal and club continued and reaped the rewards taking out the Division 2 grand final in 2013.
The Aspley women's team now compete in Division 1 against heavyweights of the Brisbane Women's competition such as Souths Logan and Burleigh.
“In 2014 we are up against clubs full of rep and Australian players and it can be intimidating for the younger players.”
But Chantal has some advice for school girls making the step up to the open competition.
“It is a big difference, but you've just got to listen to the girls around you who have been playing for a while. Use your school girls’ experience, but always look to learn more. You've always got to be asking, 'what else can I learn?’”
Chantal believes that if her team plays with heart and passion and trains with the discipline required, there are a few players who can go further.
“Definitely. I'd say there are a few future rep players here and playing in Division 1 against the Jillaroo players will only help them improve.,” she said.
“That school girl experience is a bonus. So many girls here on the team are younger than me, but have more rugby league experience. That can only be a good thing for them.”
Injuries are a constant in rugby league regardless of whether you're male or female, but there are challenges that are unique to women's rugby league.
“We've lost a few players to pregnancy, and then there's the kids as well. We've got a few single mums in the team and so kids are welcome at our training and you just work around it. We encourage it. Our team is a big family and even my mum helps out with the kids at training and during the game.”
Having won a grand final last year, Chantal is realistic about the team's goals for 2014.
“This is Division 1 now, I'd be happy with a top 4 finish. As for myself I'd love to play for a few more years, until my youngest is playing here as well, but league is a tough game and in many respects you just have to take it one game at a time. It gets harder and harder to recover after each game.”
Regardless of how long Chantal keeps playing for, you get the feeling that she won't be lost to rugby league.
“I'd like to show that women can be just as passionate about rugby league as the men and I'd like to be more involved with juniors, seeing more girls play at the club.”
***Chantal is also the QRL's Brisbane and District Women’s Rugby League correspondent.