For rising rugby league star Jasmine Peters, a revamped contest featuring new opponents has been one of the main positives of this year’s Mackay Airport A Grade women's competition.
A key player for the minor-premiership winning Mackay Brothers outfit, her side will contest the semi-finals this weekend after coming through seven regular rounds of the competition undefeated.
Peters was a member of the BHP Premiership North Queensland Gold Stars squad who won their inaugural game in Round 1 this year, and like many players who would have otherwise have featured in the cancelled statewide competitions, was keen to continuing playing this year once COVID-19 restrictions were eased.
However, beyond simply the results of the games, Peters said the opportunity to play in a North Queensland-based competition this year was appreciated by all players; but especially the younger talents who are rising in the ranks.
“It has been a very diverse competition this year,” the 2019 Queensland Under 18 Girls representative said.
“It has also been a level competition, there’s no team that’s stacked; every team pretty much has a few representative players (and) I think that’s what good about this year... girls who didn’t get an opportunity to play last year; they’ve got to play this year with people who can help them improve themselves as a player.”
Many players involved in the competition know Peters well, having been selected in the North Queensland Under 18 Girls Performance Program squad which held development camps at the start of the season.
For Peters, it has been great to see emerging talents and more established players take their opportunities in the local league competition which expanded to include Townsville-based teams this year.
“(In this competition) I play against (players like Gold Stars team mate) Emma Manzelmann, Deb Barchard, Rangi Bruce,” Peters said.
“I do know for the under 18s, a few girls are playing (like) Shanaye Watson, Vanique Malayta, Ataliah Love … Casey Manzelmann made her debut for Magpies and we also have Mackenzie Reid playing with us from (Central Queensland) Capras.
“From what I have noticed from playing against them and talking to the players off the field, they think it’s a good year for growth.
“With our footy team, what we try to do with Mackay Brothers is we try to bring in girls who are 17 who are pushing through from juniors to women’s...from the start of the year through the training sessions; so they get used to how we play and the environment that we want to build, as well as the relationships we have, so they can get used to what it will be like for next year.
“We have had a few girls debut this year, about six girls, whereas last year, it was just myself.”
QRL operations manager Jade Johnson said this weekend’s finals matches were an exciting reward for the hard work the league, the clubs and the players had put in during a difficult season.
“It has been a great competition,” Johnson said. “This weekend we have our first semi-finals … (and) the clubs have loved having the Townsville teams join our comp just to add a little variety.
“Most of our clubs in Mackay were never going to give up on footy this year, this was mainly driven from the Rugby League Mackay and District board.
“Our board believed they had a job as the administrators of the game to stay positive and to bring footy back when it was safe to do so, and most our clubs junior and senior supported this stance.
“When COVID hit, we tried to make sure we kept our community well informed to what our intentions were and what was expected if we did return to footy.
“For those players, whose clubs decided not to participate, we permitted those girls to got to other RLMD women’s teams, which was great; it strengthened the team that did enter the comp.
“We also were able to offer the two Townsville teams a lifeline. This has brought variety to the Mackay Airport Women’s comp this year.
“I have a saying that I always try and remind myself of ‘the moment you are just about to quit is moment before a miracle happens’; this is exactly what happened this year with rugby league in Mackay.”
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Next season, Peters is looking forward to again pressing her claims to be part of the Gold Stars squad and knows there will be more competition for places in the team.
“Next year, I think it will be a lot harder for people like myself and everyone going back to BHP Premiership to get your position back, because these girls who are getting given a shot this year who didn’t last year – the talent is all coming though, and especially with the younger girls,” Peters said.
“I know from experience myself that I have gotten a lot more opportunities than the women who were going through the programs before me; so I think (the challenge) will be trying to get all the girls (to come through) and make room for all the experienced players as well.”
The RLMD Mackay Airport A Grade women's competition semi-finals will be played on Saturday at Mackay Junior Rugby League grounds, with Mackay Brothers taking on Mackay Magpies at 1pm and Townsville Brothers facing off against Wests at 2.30pm.