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Tazmin Gray. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL

Tazmin Gray has donned the Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons jersey many times before. Seven times, in fact.

But this Thursday, when she pulls it on once again at CommBank Stadium in Sydney, ready to take on New South Wales, this is the first time she will wear the jersey to represent herself.

A mum of two and with a large and proud extended family behind her, Gray has always dedicated her time in the game to others. It’s always been about being a good role model for her daughters and representing her loved ones with honour.

Season 2023, however, is for her. She’s doing it just for her.

Tazmin Gray (centre) with Emma Manzelmann and Jessika Elliston at Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons training. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL
Tazmin Gray (centre) with Emma Manzelmann and Jessika Elliston at Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons training. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL

“For the first time in eight years, this one I'm doing for myself,” Gray said of tomorrow night’s series opener.

“I’ve always managed to make it about my family, about everybody else, but this year I wanted it to be for me. I wanted to play footy for myself.

“As much as I want my kids to have a role model, at the same time, I owe it to myself to have a season for me and be a little bit selfish so that’s what I’ve done and it’s paid dividends to how I am and it’s making me a lot happier of a player.

“I’ve enjoyed my footy and I’m having a lot more fun when I don’t put the expectations of everyone else on myself and I just play for me and do the things that I like to do and do it really well.”

Gray said she often felt guilty for being away from her family so much for games, travel, team camps and more.

Tazmin Gray after a Burleigh Bears game with her daughter, Kyan. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL
Tazmin Gray after a Burleigh Bears game with her daughter, Kyan. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL

She carried the responsibility of feeling like she had to perform at a certain level every time she took to the footy field, to justify those sacrifices she was making.

Along the way, she started to forget why she was really playing and what she loved about the game.

She wants to still be a role model for her young daughters – Velarn and Kyan – but in a different way.

“I never wanted to let people down and let my family down,” Gray said.

“I always thought I was on my family’s time (while playing rugby league).

“As much as I am, it just became like a clutter in my brain where I felt like I had to play good every game, I had to do this every game, I had to do that every game, because I’m away from them so much.

“I took the back end of last year off and put all my eggs into one basket and stopped spreading them out and trying to be this person and that person for everyone.

“I took the time to just really reflect on who I am and the goals I wanted to set for myself. One was just to play for myself and enjoy footy and have fun.

“As simple as that sounds, sometimes when you’re in it for so long, you forget those things.

“Sometimes I got confused between why I was doing things. Sometimes when you do it for other people, you do it a lot better, but when you forget why you’re here and your own purpose, you kind of lose the light at the end of the tunnel.

“This year, it was about changing my mentality to just have a season for myself and enjoy footy again and have fun and everything else off the back of that will come.

“Making those changes has made me a better person but most importantly a better player for the Origin side.”

Tazmin Gray. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL
Tazmin Gray. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL

And her new mentality has definitely shown on the field so far in 2023.

Gray had a strong start to her year, playing an integral part in the Burleigh Bears winning this year’s BMD Premiership.

The second rower played nine games throughout the season, missing only one match after suffering a dislocation of her voice box.

“I had a dislocation to my voice box when we played the Cutters in Townsville (in Round 3 of the BMD Premiership),” she said.

“I caught an elbow and they missed the throat and just hit straight on my voice box.

“That was one of the scariest injuries that I’ve had because for a split second there – which felt like forever – I couldn’t breathe. My throat almost felt like it was in the back of my neck.

“I managed to play on for the rest of the half but when I came off, I had this husky croak. I could breathe but it was restricted in ways.

“I didn’t really know too much about the throat until I had done it and learnt how extreme it can be.

“It was one of the scariest injuries because it happened on the field and you never really get knocked in the throat but once you do, you definitely feel it.

“I was just super grateful that the people, the medical staff and team staff around me, they really looked after me and moving forward they were able to help me along the process.

“I didn’t miss out on too much footy and I was able to mentally stay in the game so that I could play quality footy and get back to do my job on the field.”

After a few nights stay in Townsville, Gray was given the all-clear to fly home to the Gold Coast and then return to football once a hematoma on her throat went away.

But - aside from that scary ordeal - the 27-year-old is feeling the best both physically and mentally that she has in years.

She puts this down to her new attitude and to the fact she took a break from the game at the back end of last year.

A leader within the Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons team these days, Gray said she is feeling confident ahead of the showdown with New South Wales.

The looming forward pack battle is expected to be a fiery one but – while Gray is not getting complacent – she is determined to stand up for her sisters in maroon.

“It’s about always staying consistent and making sure I put my best foot forward,” Gray said.

“Across the eight games I’ve been able to represent Queensland now, I think my body would be in the best form or best position it has been.

“I’ve always managed to just carry on with little niggles that I’ve ended up paying the price for in the long run.

“For me, this year was more getting my mindset right, getting my body right so that I was in the best position to play the best footy and lucky enough, I’ve been able to do so.

“Adversity and injuries make you a better person and better player. You know every game could be your last game.

“Being in this system for so long now - and I’m not getting any younger - I’ve learnt to take those opportunities with great pride.

“It’s always a proud moment to be able to be here and put the jersey back on.”

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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