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Captain Maria: Emerald volunteer takes out Harvey Norman Female Contribution Award for May

Emerald Tigers president Maria Wiringi is making a wonderful contribution to female participation in rugby league against the odds.

Wiringi - winner of the Queensland Rugby League's Harvey Norman Female Contribution Award for the month of May - did not let circumstances beyond her control prevent her from finding ways to keep local women and girls active in the sport during the most challenging time.

When it came to keeping the Emerald women’s open team engaged and afloat, the COVID-19 crisis was an obstacle to overcome for Wiringi and not an insurmountable hurdle.

“The last two years we didn’t have a women’s competition out here,” she said.

“Last year there were only two teams that had nominated for the Central Highlands competition and the other team nominated for the Rockhampton competition. We had a few girls go over there.

“I was club secretary last year and the challenge was to try and keep the girls we had involved. We made up our own inter-club match and we started an ANZAC Day match last year where we split up our teams into two and got a few players from around the area.

“We have had to recruit from all over the place and adjust.

“We have some young girls who are really talented, so we have been mentoring them and trying to keep them in the game. They say that they think the age group is a little bit above them, but they don’t look out of place at all. They are still our top players in the team. We had to keep those girls motivated.”

The CQ Tyres and Mechanical Emerald Tigers women's team.
The CQ Tyres and Mechanical Emerald Tigers women's team.

The addition of an under 15s girls side this year has also been a revelation for the women’s game.

“That has gone gangbusters,” Wiringi said.

The Tigers have four teams in the senior club - under 15s girls, under 19s boys and open men’s and women’s teams.

Wiringi has an inspirational vision for the club and continues to play for the open women’s side.

“My goal is to have a unified and diverse club where everyone comes and feels safe and included,” she said.

“That will enable them to put their best out on the training paddock, when they are playing or interacting with each other afterwards.

“I started playing because when we moved over from New Zealand my son (Odin) wanted to play. His dad (Mike) had an injury that put him out of contact sport so I thought I would be the role model and get into league.

“The reason I stay involved and playing is the people. Sport takes me outside my comfort zone. I have been playing for 10 years but I am still a bit nervous when I go out there. It is your teammates that get you through it.”

This is her first year as club president but she has had other roles, including secretary for the last three seasons.

Wiringi stepped down as team captain this year to focus on her role as club president but she is still a member of the senior leadership group.

A back-rower in recent years, she has played in multiple positions and looks up to two New Zealand-born superstars of the game.

“One of our local clubs hosted the Capras and Burleigh Bears the other week and I got a photo with Zahara Temara, one of my favourite players. I just love her toughness,” she said.

“She is not one of the biggest players on the field but she is always thinking and involved. As for NRL players, Jason Taumalolo is just that workhorse guy.”

Wiringi, who credits husband Mike for helping her keep things in perspective, said her volunteer role as an official and player had been a positive influence on her life.

“I just have to be mindful and take a step back when things become overwhelming…and then re-prioritise. Delegation goes a long way,” she said.

“I have become more confident in myself and my decision making. I have spent time in the halves, at hooker, and as captain, where you are directing people and making decisions for the team.

“People are relying on you to make that decision. It doesn’t always have to be the right decision, but someone has to speak up and make the choice. That has carried on into my social life and my work life.

“A big thing for me is gaining trust and respect from the players. You can’t just bark orders. If you are going to talk the talk you have to walk the walk as well so I don’t ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.”

Wiringi said she drew plenty of inspiration from other volunteers in the game.

“I appreciate the work other presidents put in for our local clubs and leagues,” she said.

“Not many people know what they do and what they take on. There’s talking to sponsors and suppliers, getting fields mown and talking to local council about issues down at the park.

“I took a survey that asked each committee member how much time they spent on committee stuff and everyone is putting in at least six hours per week. That’s massive. Everyone on our committee has full-time jobs, families and houses to look after.”

To nominate a volunteer or club for the QRL's monthly community awards, click here.

Main image: Christina Moana (club treasurer), Casey Watkins (women's captain) and Maria Wiringi (club president). Photo: Damian Freiberg

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