“Is that Caitlin Moran? She’s my favourite player!”
The excitement of a young Parramatta Eels Tarsha Gale Cup player reflected the response of the whole squad when Caitlin was joined by fellow Jillaroos Nakia Davis-Welsh and Simaima Taufa at a Wellbeing and Education evening conducted by the Club.
Such is the profile of the World Cup Champions that the girls could have been meeting their favourite Eels players.
The growth of female participation in the game has seen the jillaroos become role models for a generation of players who now have a legitimate elite pathway in the game they love.
Caitlin, Nakia and Simaima contributed to all workshops across the evening sharing their personal experiences, challenges and achievements.
Theory were joined by former NRL players Luke Williamson and Bronson Harrison in the first presentation promoting vocational training options including apprenticeships and traineeships.
Simaima spoke about completing her Education Support qualification with Caitlin and Nakia both excited about their opportunity to work in the Eels Teachers Aide program and completing a similar qualification.
The Jillaroos then took the squad through some mandatory workshops covering drugs in sport and concussion as well as some important messages relating to road safety.
It was following dinner, however, that the three guests really opened up about their personal journeys in life and the game.
Nakia made the road safety presentation harrowingly real when she spoke of the loss of her brother Paul in a car accident just after he was signed by the Gold Coast Titans.
“For me, rugby league has helped me through it. It was my way out, my way to release the stress. The game made me feel a lot closer.
"Every game I have my wrist strapped and write his name on my wrist. He's a big part; every single game I always think of him,” she said.
Nakia also spoke of her teammates as ‘family’ in a discussion that centred on the theme of resilience and she extended that sense of family to the girls in the room.
“I want to be your role model,” Nakia concluded.
Caitlin and Simaima further explored the theme of family as they shared some of the challenges they faced in reaching their goals.
While acknowledging that she was far from a perfect student growing up, Simaima said she used a teacher’s comment that she “would amount to nothing” to drive her to succeed.
Born in Tonga and raised in New Zealand, Taufa played rugby union up until five years ago.
As important as winning the World Cup and being named the Dally M Player of the Year has been, Simaima spoke of her passion helping the next generation as part of the Creating Chances program.
“I had some issues in high school so I know how sport can be used as a tool to promote leadership skills and teach life skills,” she said.
“I have been out to different schools and enjoy mentoring children and running clinics that use sport to help children,” Simaima told the group.
Caitlin told a similar story of how she uses her life experiences to help others.
Growing up in a rugby league family that includes current Eels star Will Smith and former NRL players Denis Moran and Dean Widders, Caitlin always had a rugby league ball in her hands.
She admitted her life could have gone down a different pathway if it had not been for the game and the support she received.
“I was not the perfect student,” Caitlin admitted. “I had to change schools and I could have ended up nowhere.”
Caitlin was given the opportunity tom work in the Parramatta Teachers Aide program by Eels Wellbeing and Education Officer who was also Assistant Coach of the Indigenous All Stars team.
Given her own experiences in school, being a teacher’s aide may appear to be a stage choice but Caitlin explained that it allowed her to make a real difference as she explained the importance of empathy.
“One school I worked in has a young Indigenous girl who had only attended one day that term,” she said.
“When I had the chance to meet her she and I understood each other,” Caitlin continued. “We saw the world through the same eyes.
“Soon she was coming to school every day.”
The three Jillaroos left the Tarsha Gale Cup squad inspired by their stories.
These pioneers in the modern women’s game are also creating a legacy off the field.
Pictured above: Nakia Davis-Welsh, Christina Palu, Jasmine Lepua, Simaima Taufa, Nicole Kennedy and Caitlin Moran.
Main image: Eels Tarsha Gale Cup team with Jillaroos Caitlin Moran, Nakia Davis-Welsh and Simaima Taufa.