One of the best things about rugby league is the many forms it comes in and the varied opportunity people have to get involved through tackle, touch and tag versions of the sport.
These different versions of rugby league also present another pathway and in the women’s game we have seen many exceptional touch footy players try their hand at the contact version of the game including Tamika Upton, Tarryn Aiken and Maddie Studdon.
This year another woman has made the transition into the NRLW with Brisbane announcing the signature of Hayley Maddick.
Over the past four years, there has been significant focus on building the women’s pathway through competitions like the Tarsha Gale Cup and Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership in NSW and the BHP Premiership in Queensland.
For the Telstra Women’s Premiership to continue to be a thriving, quality competition, there needs to be an unbroken pathway so women can play footy from age six and aspire to be Australian Jillaroos.
Maddick's rise to the top via the touch football route has been full of highlights.
She represented Australia and Queensland in touch and in 2019 was awarded the 2019 Female Player of the Year award following her season with the Broncos in the NRLW Touch competition.
But after playing rugby league as a child in school alongside Annette Brander, she has recently made a decision to come back to rugby league.
"I still love touch football and it is tricky to try and do both sports at the same time," she said.
"I know I’m not going to be playing sport forever and I am coming towards the end of my career, so I thought that if I didn’t give rugby league a go now, I was never going to.
"That’s the reason I’m playing again and also because I just love the game."
After playing for the Souths Logan Magpies Women in 2020, Maddick played for the Valleys Diehards alongside fellow Broncos recruits Shenae Ciesiolka, Ali Brigginshaw and Lavinia Gould.
The team made the grand final, coached by Scott Prince, who Maddick knows well through touch football.
"I have learnt so much from Princey already. He is great with all of us, is focused on getting everyone involved and just makes it really enjoyable to be there.
"He’s one of the main reasons I have stuck with my footy, I really enjoyed my season with Valleys and a big part of that was how invested Scott was."
While touch and rugby league are similar when it comes to ball skills and reading the play, contact is a significant difference.
"It’s not as bad as it looks," Maddick said. "I’m starting to get used to moving into someone running into you. It can be a challenge because I am a bit smaller and not used to doing it.
"I’m loving trying, even though I am not great at it.
"I haven’t been hurt once trying to tackle or being tackled. You just have to get into it and have a go.
"A little bit of training and some learning about how to get technique right goes a long way."
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With the NRLW season due to start in October, Maddick is eagerly counting down the day until she can start training alongside her Broncos teammates.
Given the evolving COVID-19 situation, players are training individually. Each week the players receive a couple of training sessions and share with the club the progress they are making.
But it isn’t much fun training on your own. "Training by myself is the biggest challenge of all. Everyone is super keen to come together and to just get into training.
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"I’ve played with a couple of the Broncos women at Valleys and know culture is a big piece for the Broncos so I can’t wait to get into it."
While Maddick suggests she is coming to the end of her career, that may only be in the contact version of the sport.
One of the best things about touch footy is there continues to be social and competitive tournaments for people of all ages. At the State of Origin level there are even competitions for men and women in their 60s.
"It’s good fitness and it can just be social if you want it to be and of course, it’s no contact which is probably what you want when you are getting older. A few old footy players are still playing touch, I think Cliff Lyons is still playing."