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'I hope The First Tackle shows kids the importance of equality'

I still remember the burning anger and annoyance I felt as the boy sat across from me uttering those words.

“You only like Darren Lockyer because you think he’s good looking. You don’t really like football.”

Darren Lockyer - who at the time was still a fullback - was actually my favourite player because of his speed, silky skills and mostly, his ability to be everywhere on the field, fighting for every point, every moment in the game. I loved that he never appeared to give up.

But I knew why the boy said that to me. The idea of girls liking football for football was too foreign to him.

I remember feeling that burning anger and annoyance again in Year 10 when discussing future career options in our “life skills” class.

“You can’t be a sports journalist,” my teacher said. “You’re a girl.”

And I still feel it today when I interview female athletes and hear the hurdles they’ve faced to be where they are now. I feel it when people dismiss sports commentators, presenters or writers, just because they are women. And I feel it when I read the social media comments about women’s sport.

I am lucky in life that despite the naysayers, I’m surrounded by the most supportive people imaginable. People who don’t tell me I can’t do something based on my gender.

That’s why it was easy for me to shrug off those comments – why I still work in sports media despite that negativity.

But while it was easy to shrug them off and continue supporting Darren Lockyer, to continue working towards my dreams, those aren’t the kinds of comments you quickly forget.

And, for some girls, they may be the kind of comments that stop them from watching sport, playing sport or working in sport altogether.

This is part of the reason I wrote my debut novel, The First Tackle.

The middle grade fiction book tells the tale of young Daniella Murphy – an avid rugby league supporter and a dreamer who wants to play the game, but is blocked by her family and teased by the schoolyard bully.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but The First Tackle is a story of empowerment.

It’s a book to remind kids they can do whatever they put their mind to and who they are and how they were born should never be used as an excuse to stop them.

The inspiration for this book struck me when I was only a few days into maternity leave in 2019, as I watched the women’s All Stars match.

I knew covering women’s rugby league was what I would miss most about my time away from work to raise my firstborn son.

And so, I tapped into my other childhood dream – to be an author – to pen my first novel.

A female rugby league book is certainly not the kind of book I had growing up, but I hope The First Tackle can be a novel that many kids – especially girls – can turn to and see themselves represented in, not only now, but long into the future.

I hope it shows kids the importance of equality and how to persevere when times get tough.

And that the next time someone says they can’t do something just because they are a girl or because they are different, that they feel that anger, feel that annoyance and carry on anyway.

I hope they learn barriers are there to be broken down.

The First Tackle will be released next month.

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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