Shannon Mato is looking for her “home ground”.
The Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons prop has played for a number of clubs throughout her rugby league career, including West Brisbane Panthers and Tweed Seagulls in Queensland and the North Sydney Bears in New South Wales.
But in 2023, she will don a fresh jersey as she joins the newly established Mackay Cutters BMD Premiership squad.
For Mato, her choice in club has always been guided by what her life situation was – where she had to work or live.
She has left each place on good terms, always clear that she was leaving only because she had to.
Originally, her signing with Mackay was motivated by similar circumstances after she got a job up north.
But then when she had to instead move to Brisbane to support her family, there was one thing Mato knew for sure – she wasn’t leaving the Cutters behind before she had even played a game.
“I normally just go to the closest club to me,” the 24-year-old said.
“I’m now staying in Brisbane where I do support work. A lot of change has happened all at once. I’ve had to make the change but since I had already signed with Mackay Cutters, I just knew I couldn’t make any more changes.
“They have a fly in, fly out system, which was good for me and it works around work. They’ve been really supportive, their organisation is amazing, they always have really good comms and they set out challenges for all of us.
“They’ve filled me in on everything we need to do. Everything we do, we move forward as a team.”
The Mackay Cutters have picked up the old system of the North Queensland Gold Stars – who won last year’s BMD Premiership - with players living in Cairns, Townsville and Mackay, training at their home bases, and coming together for games.
It’s a structure that suits Mato perfectly.
She cares for a man with cerebral palsy and said it’s not the type of job where you can “come and go as you please”.
But the Cutters understand that juggle and Mato’s goal for the season is to repay their faith.
“I’ve just been really fortunate to be able to sign with Cutters and be close to my family still and do the job that I love,” she said.
“For me, my biggest goal this year is just playing a season. I haven’t really found a home ground for BMD.
“I just want stability in my life now and that starts with BMD. I’m just excited to get in with them and play a full season. That’s my biggest goal.”
Manzelmann: 'Honoured to play in first Cutters team'
From last year’s premiership-winning North Queensland Gold Stars side, the Cutters have signed 17 players, including Emma Manzelmann, Romy Teitzel, Tahlulah Tillett and Jasmine Peters.
As well as Mato, they have also lured Essay Banu, Laikha Clarke and China Polata north, as they prepare to carry on the legacy of the Gold Stars while also writing the first chapter of the inaugural Cutters’ women’s team.
While Mato is already familiar with a number of players from her time in the NRLW and State of Origin arena, she is looking forward to getting into the season with her new group of “sisters”.
Mato – who first played the game at 13 – said finding rugby league changed her life and a lot of that has to do with her teammates, no matter where she goes.
“I know they say it’s cliché but when I picked up the ball and I ran it for the first time, it’s like that feeling of getting your first car,” she said.
“To me, that was special. Before I started rugby league, I thought my life was going to go downhill. When I got into the rugby league space, you have to meet requirements.
“It’s little stuff like turning up on time, being organised, wearing the right gear … it’s made me grow over the years.
“Knowing your sisters have your back and they’re helping you, just things like, ‘hey you’ve got this’ or ‘don’t forget to check in’. It’s those moments I thought I would never have.
“It’s like people that didn’t really know me had my back. We’re all going through similar things. It’s not easy, training, going to the gym in your own time, taking yourself away from family, making sacrifices, and I wasn’t alone.
“I found where I could fit in and I felt understood. They smiled through all of my bad times and they were just there for me. It’s done me some great things.
“This is what I love. There’s so many opportunities that come with it. It’s something that I love and it’s saved me. I have lifelong friends and it keeps me grounded.”
Mackay Cutters 2023 squad list
Essay Banu (Wynnum Manly Seagulls), Emily Bella (North Queensland Gold Stars), Chloe Buttigieg (Northern Pride), Laikha Clarke (Burleigh Bears), Zoe Cook (North Queensland Gold Stars), Kaitlin Daley (Burdekin Roosters), Alisha Foord (North Queensland Gold Stars), Katie Green (North Queensland Gold Stars), Tahnee Guinea (Wallaby Gladstone RLFC), Keegan Irelandes (Mackay), Samara Luta (North Queensland Gold Stars), Vanique Malayta (Mackay Brothers), Casey Manzelmann (Mackay), Emma Manzelmann (North Queensland Gold Stars), Lyrech Mara (Wynnum Manly Seagulls), Alicia Martin (North Queensland Gold Stars), Shannon Mato (Tweed Seagulls), Montana Mook (Northern Pride), Sareka Mooka (North Queensland Gold Stars), Hagiga Mosby (North Queensland Gold Stars), Theopheilia Mosby-Nona (North Queensland Gold Stars), Lauren Moss (North Queensland Gold Stars), Jaquelyn Oberleuter (Carltons Devils), Jasmine Peters (North Queensland Gold Stars), China Polata (Souths Logan Magpies), Rhiannon Revell-Blair (North Queensland Gold Stars), Kayla Shepherd (North Queensland Gold Stars), Elle Stitt (North Queensland Gold Stars), Libby Surha (Mackay Cutters), Romy Teitzel (North Queensland Gold Stars), Tahlulah Tillett (North Queensland Gold Stars), Xanthe Topping (Carltons Devils Mackay), Makenzie Weale (West Brisbane Panthers)