First Nations Gems coach Jess Skinner says the growing number of players wanting to represent their mobs was overwhelming after she settled on a squad for the upcoming Harvey Norman National Championships on June 9.
More than 90 of Australia’s next crop of rising Indigenous talent applied to be part of Skinner’s team for the four-day tournament at Pizzey Park in Burleigh next month.
The Harvey Norman National Championships acts as a development tournament for female players from across Australia to compete at both the under 19s and opens age level with NRLW scouts and national coaches also in attendance to identify the potential recruitment target.
The NSWRL and QRL use the Championships to select an under 19s state team for the women's State of Origin curtain raiser on June 24.
However, for many other coaches and states, including Skinner, the championships gives players who may not have traditional pathways available to them, the opportunity to showcase their skills on a big stage.
“There’s a lot of Indigenous girls who have to relocate to play but what we offer is that girls can still stay on country and represent their mob while also be put in front of potential NRLW clubs,” Skinner told NRL.com.
“It’s a bit of a different pathway than what other Indigenous girls or non-indigenous girls go through, but this also offers a good development for the All Stars program and cultural identity amongst our girls from the start. We can put good foundations in place.”
Skinner has picked a side almost brand new from last year’s inaugural team with her three main criteria’s coming into play around how high a player has already played in their careers.
“A lot of our players from last year have gone on to the Harvey Norman NSW Premiership and BMD Premiership comps in Queensland and NSW and are confident in their footy,” she said.
“We’ve only got a couple of girls coming back from last year so that really opens up new opportunities for others. We had over 90 applicants expressing an interest from different communities and levels.
“We want to do well and every team wants to win but for me as a coach I want those girls to leave with a good experience and stay passionate and motivated to keep trying to chase the dream of one day maybe being an NRLW player, or play for their country or represent the Indigenous All Stars.
“I just want them to leave feeling confident and have self belief they can do that.”
While the action on the field is at the forefront, the cultural activities away from the field is vitally as important with players set to connect with country in the local Gold Coast communities and northern rivers region as part of the experience.
Skinner and Eels NRLW coach Dean Widders will also present on culture to players and staff taking part at the championships.
“It’s absolutely important we immerse ourselves in our culture and share our experiences with everyone throughout the week,” Skinner said.
First Nations Gems squad
- Brandii Davis-Welsh
- Baylee Davies
- Tawana Sullivan-Togo (co-captain)
- Shanti Evans
- Brooke Saddler
- Brodii Ingram
- Rebecca Lee Ford (co-captain)
- Essay Banu
- Oaklee Tighe
- Lyrech Mara
- Bree Chester
- Ahlivia Ingram
- Sareka Mooka
- Bakoi Mosby
- Madyson Tooth
- Keegan Irelandes
- Shaenice Allan
- Jessica Howard
- Vanique Malayta
- Kiara Lea Shelton
Please note: The remaining Harvey Norman National Championships squads will be released prior to the tournament on June 9.