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Jillaroos driving progress off the field with coaching staff

On the field, the Australian Jillaroos are breaking records at the Rugby League World Cup, setting a high standard that other teams aspire to achieve in their games.

Off the field, the No.1 ranked nation are also progressing in other key areas with more women getting involved in support and coaching roles within the Jillaroos program.

Australia has made rapid progress in the women’s space since breaking the dominance held at World Cups by New Zealand in 2013.

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That success has been aided particularly by the growth of the NRLW competition, which has seen the standard of play continue to develop since its introduction in 2018.

Two women who have progressed through the NRLW coaching pathways are Jess Skinner and Kate Mullaly, who are both assistant coaches to Brad Donald’s Jillaroos side in this year’s tournament.

Skinner, a former Knights NRLW assistant and current Indigenous All Stars assistant coach, was promoted by Donald this year after spending time with the Australian program during the Prime Minister's XIII clash in 2019.

“I am mainly working with Brad and Neil [Henry] on defence … and trying to get that right, along with trying to get the girls to connect off the field as well as on the field; so really building that cultural awareness as well when we are representing the whole of Australia,” Skinner said.

“I am taking the girls on a bit of a journey there and they have been amazing with it.

“I think the boys [Donald and Henry] have put a bit more responsibility on me which is really good, and I am really growing as a coach and as a person in this space.”

Jess Skinner with Jillaroos players in preparation for the Rugby League World Cup.
Jess Skinner with Jillaroos players in preparation for the Rugby League World Cup. ©Colleen Edwards / NRL

For former player Mullaly, who has rapidly progressed through the ranks since starting as the head coach of the Sharks Tarsha Gale Cup team in 2020, it has been a rewarding journey to the national team set-up.

Mullaly received a shock call-up to the Jillaroos in October when former assistant and Jillaroos legend Karyn Murphy was a late withdrawal.

“The day after the NRLW grand final, I had just gotten home from the Eels fan day and was scrolling through Instagram when I saw the Jillaroos team announcement; I sent Brad a text saying, ‘what a squad’ and about a minute later, my phone started ringing and it was Brad,” Mullaly said.

“After some small talk, he said unfortunately 'Murph' had to pull out of the trip and basically, would I come along as an assistant coach.

“My jaw dropped and now I’m here in the UK with the Jillaroos. This is the pinnacle; it’s representing your country – whether that be as a player or a staff member it’s an absolute honour for which I’m so grateful for.”

Kate Mullaly at Jillaroos training.
Kate Mullaly at Jillaroos training. ©Colleen Edwards / NRL

Skinner, who also works with the NRL’s Indigenous Women’s Academy, has had a similarly meteoric ride through the ranks, and encouraged more women to put their hand up to give coaching a try.

She also urged all people interested in coaching to take full advantage of all the resources on offer to support people in their roles.

“I started out (coaching) because there was a need for it in my community … in 2018, I was named the Women in League Achievement Award winner and I think I said in that interview … ‘in 10 years from now, let’s do this again, I’d love to see some of our country girls play for the Jillaroos’, and here I am not so long after that going myself, and I didn’t think that was possible,” Skinner said.

“Coaching is absolutely rewarding, I think it’s more about the relationships that you build and the actual change that you see, particularly in the women’s space when you can invest time in them and give them what they deserve, which is quality coaching...

“But the camaraderie as well, of women together and women empowering women is such a huge movement, and the game is a big driver of that.

“I think take in every opportunity to learn. For me it started with sitting outside a local men’s dressing room to hear the halftime talk … take every opportunity, be that taking on an NRL coaching course, going to the conferences, networking with others, and just over time, you start to build your own philosophy and your own little pocket of tricks … and take every opportunity to learn and continue developing.”

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In general, the women’s game has been a place of sharing knowledge and during this World Cup, an array of NRL staff are helping build the skills of players, coaching and support staff across the world.

NRL Pathways Project Manager Mike Castle taken the reins of Canada Ravens, while Women’s NRL Indigenous All Stars coach Ben Jeffries is with PNG Orchids.

Former NRLW premiership-winner Meg Ward is an assistant coach to Jeffries for the Orchids, while several Australian support staff from the Queensland Rugby League are also part of the set-up in another show of partnership to the nation.

“It’s very exciting and we want to help contribute to that,” Donald said.

“It’s great, Mike works for me in my team and works with Neil who is an assistant coach for us and then we have Ben Jeffries who heads up our women’s Indigenous program that’s in our team and Jess Skinner who works in the NRL.

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“We have had the French staff reach out about some information and some sharing of knowledge and I have said this a number of times too, there’s a great spirit of collaboration in the women’s space and we certainly want to help all of those teams that are there at the World Cup this year, because when we turn around and go back in 2025 and there’s going to be an extra eight teams, we want to make sure we are helping those guys as well.

“And that’s important, that’s really important that the right people with the right knowledge are sharing the knowledge so we can make all these countries better.”

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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