Sophie Holyman knows that to be one of the best, you have to surround yourself with the best.
That’s exactly what the former rugby union forward is aiming to do this season at the Burleigh Bears, where she has signed for her debut BMD Premiership season, to play alongside the likes of Chelsea Lenarduzzi, Tazmin Gray and Sophie Buller.
Holyman, a former Queensland Reds talent, made the code switch last year after encouragement from her roommates and Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons stars, Lauren Brown and Tamika Upton, as well as New South Wales forward, Millie Boyle.
The 25-year-old made five appearances for the Brisbane Broncos in the 2022 NRLW season, played for Australia in the Prime Minister's XIII against Papua New Guinea, and earlier this year earned a call-up to attend a short Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons emerging squad camp.
She is currently making her way back from knee surgery, but the next step in her rugby league journey will be to make her BMD Premiership debut during the coming weeks.
“I knew this season for me was really important to build a foundation for my game,” Holyman said.
“I live in Mermaid (on the Gold Coast) so I’m just down the road from the Bears and I knew there’d be the experience there to help me.
“There’s so much talent here – young talent mixed with a few girls that have played a few seasons at the Bears, which is really cool.
“I’ve been doing a lot of rehab, so not mixing in with the team as much as I’d like to, but even training on the sidelines, the girls are so encouraging.
“It’s been really good having those experienced players around like ‘Duzzi, Taz Gray, (Dannii) Perese and Sophie Buller in the middle as a lock. She’s going to be a talent. She’s an unreal player.
“Duzzi literally answers all my silly questions. Pretty much any question I have for her, she’ll answer it for me. She’s been a mentor for me.
“It was a tough season for the Broncos last year, especially to come in as a rookie in the middle, it was really tough. But she was there to bounce off for me and she guided me through the season.
“For me, it helps having her for a club season as well. It’s something you can keep building and have a pretty strong relationship with your fellow middles.”
Brown’s presence at Burleigh was another reason Holyman chose the Bears to play for in 2023, but the playmaker has actually now left the club as she pursues a career as a firefighter.
Brown is not the only key player to exit Burleigh, with Karina Brown and Tallisha Harden off to Wynnum Manly while Tiana Raftstrand-Smith has gone to the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in New South Wales.
But as well as signing the likes of Holyman and Rugby Sevens back Terri-Anne Egan, the club have also retained Lenarduzzi, Gray, and sister duo, Zahara and Chante Temara.
For Holyman, this year her goals are pretty simple. With less than 12 months of experience in the game, she wants to continue to learn the ropes and see how far she can push herself.
She has fallen in love with the game.
“I wouldn’t change it for the world now,” Holyman said of her code switch.
“I’ve found my niche and I love it. The girls at home kept pushing me and I’m very glad I did come to try it.
“For me, I just want to learn the basics of the game this season. I went into a very short pre-season before starting NRLW. My first ever game was my (Round 1) debut against the Knights.
“It’s about building a bit of a foundation and having a really good BMD season. A goal for me personally is to play Origin eventually and have a really good NRLW season.
“I went into a Broncos team last year where a lot of the girls have played together for multiple seasons. While it was handy because I just slotted in, it was also really challenging because I hadn’t played before.
“To go back to the grassroots of rugby league and learn from a lot of experienced players over a longer pre-season, getting a few games under my belt, it will be really crucial.
“I’ve had rehab on my mind first to get my body right and now it’s time to get my footy head on.”
Burleigh Bears 2023 gains and losses
Caitlyn Ah Fook, Terri-Ann Egan, Taylor Fenton, Skye Girard, Sophie Holyman, Alysha Lee, Shaianne McGlone, Skyla Rogers, Carmen Williamson
Karina Brown, Lauren Brown, Laikha Clarke, Tallisha Harden, Ashlee Harvey, Jasmin Kemp, Hailee-Jay Ormond-Maunsell, Tiana Raftstrand-Smith, River Smalley