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Legend Q&A: Stephanie Hancock

Two NRLW premierships, 20 Tests for Australia, 15 appearances for Queensland and a couple of false alarm retirement calls feature in the story of one of the Jillaroos' greatest ever players. 

Stephanie Hancock is a known larrikin in women's rugby league ranks and one of the few players remaining in the fast-growing game that can connect with the older generation of stars.

Hancock opens up to NRL.com to discuss her career and accomplishments in a special chat for the Legend Q&A series.

Steph Hancock – Q&A

You were born in Killarney, near Warwick in Queensland – what were you like growing up playing sport?

I was always unassuming no matter what sport – swimming, athletics, touch footy, netball, rugby league, soccer, tennis or cricket. I'd play tennis with my grandma Milly for the ladies double's tournaments every Sunday and loved it. I remember being competitive in everything and always dreamt of going to the Olympics as a kid. I was obsessed with those five coloured rings.

Your father Rohan Hancock was a bustling prop who represented Queensland and Australia in the early 1980s. What sort of impact has he had on you?

A bustling prop but also a gentle giant and one of the toughest forwards I've watched on the old VHS. Dad has always been honest with me and has been one of the biggest sources of encouragement in my life. The respect Dad has always showed towards my Mum and that showed me what it took to work hard and provide for family. I'll be forever grateful that he has loved me unconditionally even with some of my choices in life. 

I'll never forget running out in my first game for Queensland at Suncorp Stadium in 2004. I asked Dad what it was like running out at Lang Park for his first Origin game, just his reaction gave me goose bumps. It wasn't the same experience as Dad's but it was still amazing.

You're a police officer by trade and a full-time mum in between your rugby league commitments, how have you managed to juggle it all?

It's been hard but a choice I've made. Being a police officer consists of shift work and playing footy doesn't really suit a shift worker. I'm not complaining about it being tough to manage but it's a pain in the you-know-what. For anyone that knows me my time management could improve, I probably make it a whole lot harder than it should actually be. I've missed out on so much family time and that definitely hurts. My daughter Manaia's netball is on the same day as footy on Saturdays and I can remember my mum always being at my sporting events and I feel very selfish for not being there for Manaia.

You made your debut for the Jillaroos in 2003 and have gone on to play 20 Test matches for Australia – is there anything in particular you remember about that first game?

We played in terrible conditions on a wet and muddy Mt Smart Stadium track against New Zealand at the 2003 World Cup. I was eager to make an impact. I played back row and went to make a tackle I thought was a pearler but ended up sitting in the bin for the tackle ... there could've possibly been a bit of a stiff arm. The irony is Dad received a forearm to the head from Kiwi forward Kevin Tamati that knocked him out cold in his first Test so he struggles to recall his first game for Australia but I clearly remember mine.

Kangaroos skipper Steph Hancock in 2015.
Kangaroos skipper Steph Hancock in 2015. ©NRL Photos

You've shelved retirement plans in recent seasons after announcing it following 2017 World Cup and are now playing better than ever, how hard is it to hang up the boots at this point of your career?

I like how you say "shelved retirement plans" – it sounds a lot better than [former Jillaroos teammate] Joey Barrett telling everyone that I've had more comebacks than Johnny Farnham.

The story goes I busted my face in the 2017 World Cup final and while my teammates were celebrating I was getting stitched up in the doctors room. I had a bit of time to think about what had just happened and thought to myself, "What are you doing Hancock? You love this game." 

So to answer your question two years on, I can't do it, I love what footy brings to my life. If I'm being honest I thought my form at Origin and NRLW this season would've given me a chance to play in my 21st Test. I wasn't expecting to miss out on Jillaroos selection this year but it wasn't meant to be.

If my body lets me continue I will keep playing footy until my heart and my head agree that I'm not enjoying it anymore.  

Gone are the days where you have to pay to play at an elite level. You must feel overwhelmed after experiencing plenty of tough times growing up funding your trips?

I still feel guilty that the players before me never had the opportunity to feel what it's like to be paid to play representative footy. It's a game-changer to no longer have that burden of financial worries hanging over your head while you're away at camp leading up to big games. People still can't believe that players had to pay a few thousand dollars to play World Cups. Overwhelming is the best way to describe it – going from paying to represent your own country to now not having to worry about taking time off without pay to play the game you love for yourself, family and country. 

Steph Hancock leads out the Broncos in 2018.
Steph Hancock leads out the Broncos in 2018. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

You were part of a dominant Queensland side that was virtually unstoppable until recent times – what was it like playing Origin/interstate clashes when the spotlight wasn't on the women's game as much?

We could have had five people in the crowd and it would not have changed the way we all felt about what playing for Queensland meant to us. It didn't change the rivalry between both states just because we weren't in the spotlight. I wish my memory bank served me better, although I wish more that the history of Queensland women's footy was more recorded over the years. There was nothing better than being part of that 17-years-in-a-row-winning Queensland team.

I am extremely happy to finally see how far women's Origin has come and that the next generation through the under 18s also now have the opportunity to play Origin at that level at their age.

There have been some big influences you've met during your career, from Karyn Murphy to the late Graham Murray, Greg Inglis and more recently Trevor Gillmeister – was it as easy to get along with them all as it sounds?

Four very genuine people that I am grateful to have had in my life and big supporters of the women's game. With Muz in particular, he was the ultimate gentleman – I met the bloke in 2011 and he was one who actually gave a shit about the women's game and launched it into the place it should've been at least 10 years before that. He taught us the simple things not just in footy but in life. 

Gilly is another one that knows how to have a great yarn and make people laugh. He is definitely the right bloke to be around the women's game. 

GI has been to women's games in his own time, he came to our send-off for the World Cup in Sydney in 2013 and invited the Queensland girls for lunch with the Queensland boys only last year when he was captain.

Murph was an enormous part of my growth in the game and always made footy enjoyable and truly was a massive part of why my career has been successful.

Steph Hancock in action for the Brisbane Broncos.
Steph Hancock in action for the Brisbane Broncos. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

With two World Cup wins under your belt in 2013 and 2017, are they your biggest career accomplishments or does something else stand out?

They are up there but what means the most is knowing Dad and I are the first ever father/daughter combination to play for Queensland and Australia. I love that we share that history together.

But in reference to the World Cup triumphs, we never made the final in 2003 and in 2008, on home soil, we got pumped by New Zealand 32-0. I've never re-watched that game. 

So the feeling of winning a World Cup and beating the Kiwis at the same time in 2013 ... I remember putting my head in the scrum when there was under two minutes to go and started crying uncontrollably. In 2017 there were mixed emotions, it was meant to be the end [after announcing my retirement earlier]. I felt empty thinking this is my last game of footy. 

Women's Origin is heading to the Sunshine Coast in 2020 – will we see you there as a player or spectator?

A lot of people think I'm probably talking it up when I say it haunts me losing to NSW but after winning so many in a row with a lot of the greatest female players to play for Queensland, I feel it a lot more. If it all goes to plan, I'll be there again and being on the Sunny Coast hopefully the result will be different and I'll be able to sleep at night again.