Chelsea Baker will fly into Brisbane tomorrow night to take part in a club rugby league match for the last time this year.
Baker – one of the most popular players in women’s rugby league – this week made the tough call to withdraw her availability for the upcoming NRLW competition; but still has one more club game to prepare for before she closes her rugby league season.
With her Tweed Seagulls side making a remarkable appearance in this weekend’s Holcim Cup finals day action; Baker is excited to play in one more game with her new team mates, who will face off against West Brisbane Panthers for a third placing.
‘’The last one,” Baker said.
“I fly Friday night and back Sunday. We just have to do what we did this weekend (to win).
“I’m playing in the halves again I am pretty sure… but will just try and get a bit more ball, try and spread it out a bit more (and see) if we can get Panthers moving from side-to-side instead of just going up with middle.
“Pairing with Taz (Tarryn Aiken) has been good, but there’s only so much you can do when you’ve only had one training session together, so getting a combination going is going to be a bit tricky, but we are doing what we can and the best we can do with what we have.
“The quality (of the competition) has been really good actually... I was surprised, it’s been a lot of fun.
“It’s been brutal on the body after not playing all year and then going straight into a higher comp than what I am used to playing in week-in, week-out, that’s for sure, but it’s been really good.”
Overall, the experience of playing in the Holcim Cup has been a busy one for Baker, who was one of the players from clubs not involved in the tournament to put their hands up to take part in the South East Queensland-run competition.
With Tweed then having to withdraw in Round 2 due to border closures, Baker donned an orange and black jersey with Easts Tigers for that round, before re-joining the Seagulls, who then surged into finals contention with a breakout performance in Round 4.
“It’s all be very hectic, and for five weeks of footy I have trained twice with my team and I never got to train with Easts because that was rushed experience that one, but still fun, but it’s all been pretty hectic,” Baker said.
“(But my) kids (Maddi, 10 and Quade, 9) have been handling it better than I thought, so just one week to go and we are all done and dusted... it’s crazy.”
The 2020 season has been a strange one for all rugby league players – but for Baker, it has been more eventful than most, given she has played for three different teams in two different competitions.
At the start of the year, she captained the Central Queensland Capras to their first BHP Premiership win before COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the season.
“We did such a good pre-season for Capras and we were pretty pumped because we had some really good players – we had Storchy (Mariah Storch), we had Elle Stitt, we had five or six girls from my local comp, we had Tamika Upton, who was supposed to be in there, but she was still injured for our first game and we went out and played really well in that first game and we won,” Baker said.
“We were pumped, and we still had Tamika to come in and I was like ‘yes, this is going to be awesome’ and then COVID hit and bleurgh.”
Match: Tigers v Capras
Round 1 -
Venue: Totally Workwear Stadium, Brisbane
Given her love of the game and her competitive nature, the decision to make herself unavailable to take part in the 2020 NRLW season after two successful seasons with the Brisbane Broncos was a difficult one, and not one she took lightly.
“It was a hard decision... I have been stewing on it for a few months, just with all the forever-changing COVID things and then just the possibility of being away from the kids and definitely not being able to see them this time,” Baker said.
“The family probably wouldn’t be able to come to Brisbane, so I would have had to have gone a solid 10 weeks without seeing them, whereas in the other years I was able to see them I think at the worst it was 10 days.
“As much as you want to play footy, at the end of the day, it was only a possible four days of footy for approximately 10 weeks away from your kids and I didn’t think that was fair on them or on the husband, who works crazy hours and already only sees the kids for a couple hours a day.
“It would have been even harder for him to try and do it as single dad sort of thing, so I stewed on the decision for a long time and I slowly started leaning towards not playing.
“Then once I finally made that decision, it was a massive weight off my shoulders. I am feeling very content in it now.
“That time of the year is so busy for me, we have Maddi’s birthday, it’s mine and Matt’s wedding anniversary... there’s so much stuff that goes on and generally I miss most of it … but I actually get to see my husband this year on our 10-year anniversary, so exciting! But I probably will forget it because I will be so chuffed to be home.”
Baker is definitely not done with rugby league though – which is reassuring to her fans who may have misinterpreted her post on social media.
“(I’m) not retiring, just not playing this one guys,” Baker said with a laugh.
And while she has made the decision to not be involving with the NRLW this season, if selected in the Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons squad for the State of Origin fixture later this year, she would be keen to once again pull on a Maroons jersey.
“I would love to play in Origin again,” Baker said.
“It does depend on all the finer details around it as to what has to happen, but we all have to be adaptable... but it comes down to what decisions will be made (with regards to quarantining before and after the game) as to whether I am available.
“The will is there, I definitely want to play, but depends on those issues.”
When the siren sounds after her final game with the Seagulls on Saturday and she’s settled back in at home, there will be no time for rest.
“There’s no rest, otherwise I won’t get back up,” Baker said.
“I will pretty much keep potting along... I still work for the NRL (in development), so just doing all of that and trying to get a house renovated; very slowly it’s like a 10-year project that is going very long, but that’s about it.
“I will keep fit in case I am lucky enough to still get called up into that Origin squad; and I am back playing touch up here (in Gladstone), so that is fitness without realising it is fitness, which is the best type.
“And then mum life and getting back into it because all their sports are just starting to all come back, so it’s back into the busy mum life now … I love watching them do their sports.”