The juggle is real: woman, rugby league star, dance mum

I started playing rugby league in Gladstone in 2012... my second child Quade was nearly one and some friends of mine decided to start a rugby league team in town because we didn't have one.

I played one game, got hooked and I haven't looked back.

I have always played touch football, right from being a kid to now, but I just love the contact of rugby league; there's not that big of a difference between the games, except for the contact and the fact that you can kick.

I'm honestly not sure about how many rep teams I've made... I think I'm sitting at seven games for Australia since 2016, four for Queensland - 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, and then there's regional rep teams underneath.

Chelsea Baker and the 2017 World Cup Jillaroos team. Photo: NRL Images
Chelsea Baker and the 2017 World Cup Jillaroos team. Photo: NRL Images

In the short time that I have been playing at that sort of level, women's sport has skyrocketed.

When I first started, barely anybody knew about it - I think I only just came in after the girls had to stop paying their own way, which I thought was a major thing because I was used to having to pay to do everything.

With my touch football, you always had to pay your own way and it was expensive. Then to come into footy, they paid for everything. It was an eye-opener.

Coming from both sides and having done both, it makes you appreciate every single person who came before you.

Women's sport has definitely come a long way and it's really exciting - the coverage and the level that it's at, at the moment.

Chelsea Baker getting ready to kick. Photo: QRL Images
Chelsea Baker getting ready to kick. Photo: QRL Images

There's still a lot of work to be done, but I think it just needs to be done slowly.

I know a lot of people just want it to hurry up. So many people want the NRL to already announce a 16-team women's comp, that goes all year long, but those of us who played in a four-week comp with a pre-season last year are just like, 'no! It can't be done'.

You’ve got to look at the quality of it all. You can't just say ‘sure, let's give every club a team'... the quality of it would be terrible.

I think baby steps all around is perfect, because it's just going to make it a way more sustainable product.

It's not going to happen in my time. Baby steps in my time is what I'm happy with, and if it's there for the next generation, say for my nine-year-old daughter Maddison’s generation coming through, if it's finally built by the time she's there, then fantastic.

That's what we want. In no way do I think it should be rushed just to meet what the public want. It's a slow process and we're doing it the smart way.

I think the work going into the junior development of girls is fantastic. I think most areas are just about at a stage where once the girls finish playing at under-12s with the boys, most areas have got those pathways for girls to join under-14 of under-17 teams, then opens.

I know in the Gladstone region, that's what we're working really hard towards; we are right on the cusp of it... we just need those few more girls, or that little bit more consistency, and it'll be there.

I think it's a  really good opportunity for these girls as it's something not a lot of us had coming through.

I'm obviously on the older end of the girls still playing with me at the moment, at 33, but the opportunities that these girls have all got is astounding - it's so good for them.

In saying all of that, my daughter Maddi doesn’t play. She’s a dancer.

I ask her all the time if she wants to play footy and she looks at me like I'm insane. She’s doing circus training at the moment, which involves flipping and doing trapeze, and silks... so yeah, I go from crazy football mum, to the complete opposite in dancing.

People often ask how I handle doing the hair side of things, but I'm actually pretty good at it, which is bizarre because I don't have much of my own.

Quade is footy mad - he is everything football. If he's not in his school uniform, he's in footy clothes. He plays for the Wallaby's, just like his mum and dad. He is a fourth generation member of the club too. 

Since 2017, I've said I'll take it a year at a time with my footy.

In 2017, my goal was World Cup and to make that final World Cup team and I did that. And I said anything after that is a bonus. An absolute cherry on the cake.

Then last year happened; last year was unbelievable. But again, my goal through last year was to play for an NRLW team... so I'm just going a year at a time, so that's my goal again this year. An NRLW team, and then once that happens, it'll be the premiership. 

I've got no long-term goals. I'm going on how my body feels, how my family is handling everything.

I’m really hoping 2019 is a mirror of last year except for losing the State of Origin. It's not asking too much is it? State of Origin win, premiership win, Anzac Test win... I'm not being greedy, am I?

I think they're all doable. I think anything is doable. I think it's just a matter of commitment levels - the desire to win is what you've got to have.

Brisbane Broncos celebrating their NRLW premiership win. Photo: NRL Images
Brisbane Broncos celebrating their NRLW premiership win. Photo: NRL Images

Without sounding like a big head who wants it all, you've got to have a dream. If I go in and say 'I don't want to win', then what am I working towards? I do want all of it. Obviously to get through the season whole would be a good thing as well.

I don't know if my hair will stay pink though. Someone pointed out to me recently the only colours I haven't had my hair are my local club colours, which are black and orange.

And I've played for them for going on four years, so how have I never done thought of that? You never know. We'll see. It's going to fall out on me very soon I'm sure of it. I'll shave it off before it falls out.

Wanting it all, and working for it all, has been tough on me as a mum.

Being a mum playing sport at this level has presented so, so many challenges. Last year, my kids and my husband, and myself... we all struggled quite a bit with the amount of time away from home I had.

I played representative touch last year as well, playing State of Origin, and at a national touch level, so if I add up all the touch, and then all of the footy, and all of the training sessions, and teams in between, I think I was away from home for four months of last year.

Chelsea Baker in action for Queensland. Photo: NRL Images
Chelsea Baker in action for Queensland. Photo: NRL Images

Which I didn't realise until I got into the Broncos program and added it all up; I was like 'oh goodness.. no wonder my kids are playing up, being very sooky and clingy, and all of that'.

It does take a big toll. I don't think people realise; they ask 'why don't you just move to Brisbane?' but footy is not our whole family life.

We've still got to be able to work – I work as a casual game development officer for NRL, my kids are at school.

It does take a very big toll on us but again, being 33, and with the talent that is coming through, I'm not going to be doing this for much longer, so we're putting up with it while it's happening and we're taking every bit of it that we can.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, where we will say 'that's us - we're done'.

There will be a time it is time to concentrate on family.

I’m often asked what I think about being an inspiration to other mums, but I never see myself as inspirational to anyone.

It is still so bizarre to me that people know who I am; I still think people are looking at me weirdly because I've got pink hair, when it's the fact that people recognise me. I never know what to say. I'm so awkward about it.

I guess the biggest bit of advice for people coming through is just give it a go.

I didn't give it a go until after I'd had my kids, I was already 24 or 25 - I can't remember - and look how far I came. 

I guess you'll never know if you don't just give it a try.

I never dreamed that I would be here.