Ali’s fight to return to league
Her pure footballing skills caught the attention of none other than the eighth Immortal Andrew Johns, but after a shocking broken leg that almost saw her walk away from the game Ali Brigginshaw is back and ready to reclaim her place in the Jillaroos.
The inclusion of Brigginshaw is a major boost to a Queensland team looking to extend their dominance over New South Wales in the interstate challenge to 18 years when they clash at Cbus Super Stadium at 3.10pm on Saturday.
Queensland are without Dally M Female Player of the Year and expectant mother Jenni-Sue Hoepper so having Brigginshaw back at five-eighth is timely as the NSW girls look to go one better than the 4-all draw in Townsville last year.
So taken was Johns with Brigginshaw after watching her play a Test against New Zealand in 2014 that he told NRL.com that “all the principles I try to teach the halves, she was already doing. She understood timing, space, when to pass, when to run. She was a natural footy player.”
But the pain associated with having a plate and six screws inserted into her lower leg after breaking her fibula in three places last June had her doubting whether she could compete in any sport pain-free ever again.
“I played touch when I had the plates and screws in and I just thought that it was never ever going to be the same," Brigginshaw told NRL.com.
“I couldn't take off, there was pain, every time I finished it would swell up and I just thought that I wouldn't ever get back.
“You don't think that waking up in the morning and walking out to the lounge room is going to be an issue and I'm 26 and it was an issue. That was the biggest thing, the normal everyday things and the pain that was there.
“I thought this was it. It would swell every time I did anything. The biggest thing was walking. I could never wear thongs, couldn't walk on the beach, nothing like I used to do and I thought at 26 I was going to have pain for the rest of my life.”
But in another display of the power of a woman's intuition six months after surgery Brigginshaw spoke to the surgeon about having the plate and screws removed.
He was initially hesitant to perform the surgery so early in the recovery process but Brigginshaw said the relief was immediate and that she would not be back playing the game she loves had the surgery not taken place.
“He probably took them out earlier than he should have but it was the best thing I ever did. Within a couple of weeks I knew I could come back and play,” Brigginshaw said.
“As soon as I got the plate and screws out, within two or three weeks of light pressure I knew. There was no pain, no swelling, I could come back then.
“I was kind of angry at the game. I didn't want to be a part of it because I was so angry that I couldn't be there but after I could start running I realised that I wanted it more than anything.
“I wanted to get back there and wanted to be fitter and better than ever.”
And Brigginshaw will need to be in order to earn her place back in the Jillaroos team.
With the greater exposure and resources that the women's game has received in recent years the depth of talent is greater than it has ever been and means that no incumbents – not even ones with Immortal endorsement – are guaranteed a spot.
Only a couple of games into her comeback Brigginshaw was initially left out of the South-East Queensland team for the state carnival in June, but was brought in when another player pulled out.
She went on to score two tries in South-East's final game against Northern, the team she suffered her broken leg against 12 months earlier to the day.
“I wanted to be back there and fight to get that jersey back and that's what motivates me," she said.
“I've had some ups and downs, I haven't been picked and people don't think I'm ready to come back and I just wanted to prove to them that I'm ready to come back.
“You don't just make teams, you have to prove yourself.
“When I first started six years ago you'd make the side but now there are so many girls playing rugby league that you get picked on that game you play.
“You don't get picked on that game from a year or two years ago and that's what's big about this game. You go out there and play well and you could be in the Jillaroos.
“I want to be out there playing for Queensland this year and now I'm here it feels like my first one again.
“I'm nervous as all hell to play, but so ready.”
The Women's Interstate Challenge for the Nellie Doherty Cup features as part of a double-header with the Titans v Eels NRL clash at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday. The women's game kicks off at 3.10pm and will be streamed live on QRL.com.