A lot has changed in women’s rugby league since 2005 when Amy Turner last represented Queensland.
The 35-year-old, who started playing league at the age of six in her hometown of Tokoroa in New Zealand’s north island, said it was surreal being back in the Queensland squad 14 years after making her debut.
She concedes she was shocked - and thought the selection phone call was a “stitch up” when told she would be joining the Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons side to take on New South Wales.
Turner hasn’t been completely out of the game, or the representative ranks; she was part of Australia’s gold medal-winning Rugby 7s team at the Rio Olympic Games and then returned to her favoured sport of rugby league, currently playing for West Brisbane Panthers.
“I was not expecting that at all,” Turner said of the phone call to say she had been selected in the squad.
“I had to ask (coach) Jason (Hetherington) if it was a stitch up."
No stitch up.
"I’m one of the older girls in the team - a geriatric,” Turner laughed.
“I guess I am considered a senior player in terms of experience and having played more games, but I am not as experienced when it comes to playing for Queensland and being in this squad.
“There’s some really talented and experienced players in the side like Steph (Hancock) and Ali (Brigginshaw), who are the face of Queensland rugby league.
“I’ve come back in, and I’m still learning the game. The game has changed so much. It’s definitely much more professional. Fourteen years ago we didn’t have the fancy hotel to stay in or the full kit; I think we just got a t-shirt and shorts.
“I look around the room and the girls all have athletic builds, you can see that they go to the gym and eat the right food.”
There’s a deep sense of inspiration and admiration for her teammates who will spend the week together in the lead up to Friday night’s match at North Sydney Oval.
“It makes me happy to look at the team we have - they are the perfect role models for little girls who aspire to be in this team one day,” the youth worker said.
The progression of the game during that time can only mean great things for the future of women’s rugby league.
“The game is just so much more established now,” Turner said.
“It is so cool to know that girls all around Australia and New Zealand can watch NRL like I did and their dream of one day playing at this level is achievable.
"I always had that dream but then also knew I probably couldn’t because I wasn’t a boy. Girls now have every opportunity to achieve their dreams in rugby league.”
The game’s progress is especially important for the new mum, whose one-year-old daughter Kovah is already showing signs of sharing her mum’s love for the rugby league. Kovah, along with Turner’s family, will be in the crowd on Friday night decked out in maroon.
“I have enjoyed watching the Queensland and New South Wales games since I’ve been away from the squad and especially last year’s State of Origin," Turner said.
"The skill that these players have... they are so entertaining, and the collisions are massive - you could feel the hits from the lounge room.”
Turner and her teammates managed a win over New South Wales in 2005 and she is confident this year’s squad can achieve the same result when she experiences the Origin excitement once more.
Match: NSW Women v QLD Maroons
Round 1 -
Venue: North Sydney Oval, Sydney