Shenae Ciesiolka could never have imagined her decision to return to rugby league this year would result in her now being on cusp of a State of Origin debut.
A former rugby star, Ciesiolka is one of the 12 Brisbane Broncos players to feature in this year’s Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons 20-player squad and is looking to learn as much as possible during her time in camp.
Ciesiolka has had a glittering sporting career to date, having represented Australia in both touch and rugby sevens prior to her move to rugby league this year.
The Toowoomba junior represented Australia in touch at just the age of 15, taking part in the Under 18 Youth Trans-Tasman Series against New Zealand and was also a key member of the Australian rugby sevens side that won a gold medal at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing in 2014.
Ciesiolka was also part of the University of Queensland rugby sevens squad that took out the Aon Uni 7s Series last year, but was unable to defend her title this year, with the competition cancelled due to COVID-19.
Ciesiolka said that with very little opportunity to play actual matches in rugby sevens this year, the opportunity to play with the Broncos was an offer she couldn’t refuse.
“I’d always wanted to try league if the opportunity became available and I knew a fair few of the girls (at the Broncos) like Millie Boyle, Tallisha Harden and Lauren Brown and some of the girls messaged me asking what my plans were and whether I would be keen,” Ciesiolka said.
“I think that Kelvin Wright [Broncos head coach] went and watched some of the sevens games and I was just at home one day and he gave me a phone call and asked if I wanted to come play league for the Broncos.
“I was just shocked as I hadn’t played league since I was 12 and was quite nervous but couldn’t really say no as it was just too good of an opportunity.”
After coming off the bench in her NRLW debut game in Round 2, Ciesiolka went on to play her next two games on the wing, including the 20-10 grand final triumph over Sydney Roosters
While she hadn’t played rugby league since she last took part in a game a young girl, Ciesiolka credited her willingness to learn as key factor behind her picking up the skills again and earning a rapid rise to the starting side.
“At training I knew no one really knew who I was and I really had to earn my spot in that team; so every time I went to training, I gave 110% and was just open to learning and listening to the girls or the coach and just asked as many questions as I could,” Ciesiolka said.
In between juggling sporting commitments, Ciesiolka is currently halfway through her Bachelor of Education course at the University of Southern Queensland, where she specialises in health and physical education.
Just last month, Ciesiolka also took out the sportsperson of the year award at the University of Southern Queensland’s Student Awards.
Prior to her Broncos debut, she had been training with the Queensland Academy of Sport rugby sevens squad three days a week in Brisbane and had been keeping fit and ready to play.
With only three games of NRLW experience under her belt, Ciesiolka said she was still having to pinch herself that she’s achieved so much in such a short space of time.
“The GF was pretty much my second full game of women’s rugby league ever, so to get a premiership ring was unreal; it all happened so fast and I didn’t expect it so even now I’m only just coming to the realisation to what happened,” Ciesiolka said.
Shortly after the Broncos grand final triumph, Ciesiolka received a call she never thought she’d get from Jillaroos and Queensland legend Karyn Murphy (Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons assistant coach), confirming her place in the Maroons squad.
“No way did I expect to be in the Origin squad after playing two games of rugby league, so I was shocked, but I had put in the hard work even in the short period of time; so as the girls keep saying, you’ve earnt your spot here and deserve it, so I’ve just got to remember that and have confidence in myself.”
Ciesiolka said the opportunity to learn off the more experienced players in the Origin camp was one she wasn’t taking for granted.
“I am just trying to listen to conversations here and there and am just trying to learn more about the game and take on board feedback,” Ciesiolka said.
“The camp has been really fun so far and the girls are really welcoming and they’re a good group of girls to be around.”