For Canberra young gun Kayla Fleming, following in the footsteps of her Jillaroo mother was always a childhood dream.
Following the announcement of an expanded 2023 NRLW season in which the Raiders will join the Cowboys, Sharks and Wests Tigers in a ten-team competition, that dream is one step closer to a reality for the powerhouse lock.
Unlike many up-and-coming rugby league stars who are following in their father's footsteps, young Kayla looks up to her mum Nicole Pollard-Fleming, who represented the Jillaroos in 2001.
“My mum is one of my biggest inspirations. She lives and breathes football and loves watching my games,” Fleming told NRL.com.
“She’s always been very supportive of my football career and also very involved in our local football community in Cooma.
“I even got to play with her once in a Nines competition for the Jindabyne Bears which was amazing."
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For the Raiders' Best and Fairest in the Tarsha Gale competition this year, Wednesday's announcement of an expanded NRLW competition has reignited her passion to reach the highest level, with a pathway to the top that's never been clearer for young women across the game.
Approaching her last year of the junior representative competition, Fleming said next year’s inaugural NRLW Raiders side has “set in stone” that life as a professional rugby league player could soon become a reality.
“Having a Raiders NRLW team definitely gives me hope that there’s something for me to progress onto once I’ve finished Tarsha Gale,” Fleming said.
I’ve always dreamt of being in the NRLW, but this has really set it in stone that I can get there.Kayla Fleming, Canberra Raiders
Hailing from Cooma in southern New South Wales, Fleming is just one example of the hub of country rugby league talent that has emerged at the Raiders.
Off the back of two COVID-disrupted seasons, much of the club's Tarsha Gale squad was built from players in the South Coast, Riverina and South-West-Slopes.
“A lot of the older girls in my team this year were worried about what was going to happen next and if they’d have to move to keep playing footy so this news is really exciting for them,” she said. “I study Sports and Exercise Science at university in Canberra and I’m proud to be a Raider so I’m excited for all of the opportunities at home now.”