By Danielle Smith
Playing in the NRLW means so much to so many women. All from such different backgrounds, it was a dream that at one point never seemed likely to turn into reality.
I was fortunate enough to sit down with Parramatta Eels player Christine Pauli, and discuss the importance of the women's game, including growing up with a brother playing in the NRL and how it feels to finally do the same.
How did it feel to finally pull on that blue and gold jumper in round 1?
It felt really good. Even being 18th man, I still felt like I was part of something special and I was part of paving the way for the next generation of girls. I am really excited to see what Parramatta can build.
Playing for the Eels, it was a big 'hats-off' to myself, that I could follow in my brother's (Pauli Pauli) footsteps, because my brother played in the NRL before he headed over to Super League. It is just such a blessed opportunity for me.
How are you enjoying being at Parramatta?
I love the club; it feels like home. When I was 17, I had the opportunity to play for the Parramatta Tarsha girls' team. That was a great atmosphere and culture to be around, so to have another opportunity to put on another Parramatta jersey and play in the NRLW, honestly, I just love it. Being around the girls we have here, we all click well. We have bonded and gelled so well, especially after our first win.
Parramatta have done so much for my family. From when my brother was playing and growing up in the juniors to where he is now, it's all because of the club. They have always been our team and who we supported, so it's just so good for me to be part of them now too.
You grew up in Western Sydney, how does it feel to have a women's team to represent the area?
Just for me personally, there were not many opportunities for people like me coming from Western Sydney which was really unfortunate. Growing up around here and seeing so much talent and no opportunities to play, girls start to lose the passion for rugby league. Players like Simaima Taufa have played a massive part for pacific island girls from Western Sydney. Travelling around the area, doing all the hard yards, has really inspired the girls out here to do the same. And growing up in our community, we love to represent our area. It's so good to finally have a Parramatta side to represent our Western Sydney girls.
How is it having former Parramatta player Dean Widders as your coach?
I love it. Having his experience and knowledge from when he played here has played a big part with our girls, and we really want to represent the jersey just as much and he did. I already had the wonderful experience of being under his wing, he was in the coaching team when I was at the Rabbitohs in 2020, so It's another blessed opportunity to have him guiding me again. He's very straight forward, one of the things I love about him. He tells it to you straight, he doesn't sugar coat it, which is just how I like it.
Looking at the entire competition, who are your players to watch this season?
Because I play in the forwards, I really admire Kezi Apps, Millie Boyle and Simaima Taufa. I think with the way they play; they really inspire me to be a better player. Playing alongside Simaima now and Kezi Apps back in 2020, the skills and knowledge they have are incredible. They are the players that I love to watch and hopefully play like one day!
Who has the most pressure on them this season?
Everyone's eyes are on the Broncos. They have been killing it the past three seasons. They have the most pressure, but they just don't seem to show it on the field. The three new clubs (Parramatta, Newcastle, and Gold Coast) also have pressure on them to come in and build up a good standard for their new clubs.
You must love seeing the women's game get so much support from fans.
It is so good seeing so many more people following the women's game. There wasn't that much support at the beginning of the NRLW, and to see how much the fan base has grown, it's just so good to see the game growing and heading in the right direction.
Hopefully with the Tarsha Gale competition, that is the start of the development for getting the younger generation of girls to stick with the game. They can play locally and have the goal to play Tarsha Gale. Then hopefully we can start to make the teams have an under 21's comp and build it all up to the NRLW. Given the competition has grown to six teams shows that it is headed the right way.
The game is growing, yet many NRLW players like yourself also have jobs on top of your playing commitments. How are you handling it all?
I am covid testing nurse. I get up early morning at 3am and get to my shift, I might be able to sneak in a quick nap before training, then I rush to training, and then if it's a late-night session I get home and try to get a few hours' sleep before I get up and do it all again.
Watching my brother grow up, he'd just wake up, go to training, come home, eat then rest. He didn't need to have another job. I still have to make sure I get enough income to pay my bills, and then having to do the training. It can be physically exhausting but mentally I know I have to stay strong because this is something I really want to chase. Not just for myself but for the next generation of girls.
The sacrifices that so many women have made, like the New Zealand players that have left their families and moved over here, you never know what they are dealing with back at home and having to move away to chase their dreams and a career. If we can have enough support to make this our full-time job it would just be an awesome start for our girls to build on.
Off the field, something about you. Favourite movie?
Lion King! The original cartoon one. It's such a good movie, my favourite.
Something everyone else seems to like that you can't stand?
I don't like coca cola! Everyone loves it and I'm like nope! When I was younger, I was a big coke drinker and then I grew out of it and now I'm like I hate it!
And finally, how do you think the Eels can go in their first season in the NRLW?
We are still learning and growing as a team. We do have a real chance to be in the top three, we just have to dig deep.
I can see us making the Grand Final. It would be amazing to win a premiership in our first season.