Merewether’s Mel Howard was all of five years old when she first went from spectator on the sidelines to player on the rugby league field.
Two decades on from demanding a place in her little brother’s Northern Lakes Warriors team, Howard is training with the St George-Illawarra Dragons one month out from the inaugural Women’s NRL Premiership.
“I originally played league when I was five because he played,” Howard told the Newcastle Herald.
“Mum said I watched and I was like ‘they suck, I want to play’. The next week I played and scored a try first run.”
The now 25-year-old playmaker hasn’t looked back since.
Howard has hopped around a few other codes – rugby union, touch football and hockey – and doubled up with the Maitland Pickers a few winters back but this year dedicated herself to rugby league.
She played solely with CRL Newcastle in the 2018 Women’s NSW Premiership and helped guide NSW Country to glory at the National Championships on the Gold Coast in June.
It’s a move which has paid dividends and changed her life.
After recently being approached by the Dragons, Howard opted to give up a full-time PE teaching position at Singleton High School and revert to a casual role rather than turning down the sporting contract.
“This [Dragons] wasn’t really something I could say no to, so it never really crossed my mind,” she said.
“But obviously it’s pretty hard giving up full-time work considering how hard it is to come by in PE. Hopefully next term I can at least get part-time work back, but there’s plenty of casual work around as well so it doesn’t worry me too much.”
Howard knows the Women’s NRL Premiership could be the start of an ongoing chapter in her sporting story, one which she never thought would actually eventuate.
“It’s pretty crazy we can play in the NRL,” she said.
“I would have never thought it would be an option for us girls. I think if it goes well this year they will try and grow it into the future and hopefully make it more teams and a longer season.”
Howard will be one of seven CRL Newcastle players in the month-long Women’s NRL Premiership, which starts on the first weekend in September and runs alongside the men’s NRL finals series until the decider at Sydney Olympic Stadium.
She will be joined at the Dragons by Holli Wheeler and Hannah Southwell. The Sydney Roosters have Isabelle Kelly and Kylie Hilder. The Brisbane Broncos picked up Caitlin Moran and Jayme Fressard, who both won’t feature on the field because of season-ending knee injuries suffered recently.
Two-time World Cup champion, long-time NSW representative and dual international Bec Young wasn’t announced in any of the four, 22-player squads before the July 31 deadline despite being part of the national top-40 list earlier this year.
Muswellbrook 18-year-old Brydie Parker was recruited by the Roosters on the back of the women’s ID talent day on the Gold Coast in May.