WA Stars Set To Light Up NRL W Grand Final

By PETER ROWE

Anyone who tells you women can’t play rugby league have clearly not heard of Kennedy Cherrington or Shanice Parker – two young West Australians who tomorrow (Sunday) will go head-to-head in the NRLW grand final between the Parramatta Eels and the Newcastle Knights.

The growth of the women’s game around Australia has been phenomenal over the past five years and WA has seen a big participation surge, with Cherrington and Parker leading the way.

Women’s rugby league is currently the fastest growing sport in Australia, with some impressive viewing figures of their State of Origin series earlier this year.

It’s something both Parker and Cherrington would like to see increase further, especially in WA.

“I’m a massive advocate for WA. You should never forget your roots,” Cherrington said, taking a break in training as her underdog Eels prepare for what she described as a “big event for women’s sport”.

But it’s been a long road for Cherrington, now 23, who began her career at the Rockingham Sharks over a decade ago.

“My family are league mad, so it was no accident I followed the same path,” she said.

“And while the game is growing, the next step is to go full-time.

“It’s bloody tough playing and holding down another job, so we’d like to see our game step up, that would make a big difference.”

On a four-month contract that can pay anything from $10,000 to $30,000, Cherrington works two jobs and also spends time working for a charity, Heart Kids, that offers support to families with children suffering g from congenital heart disease.

She underwent open heart surgery when she was eight. “But it didn’t stop me following my dreams,” she said.

“In fact it spurred me on.”

And tomorrow’s (sunday) game signals the pinnacle of a superb season that has seen the Eels beat the Brisbane Broncos and the Sydney Roosters to reach their first grand final appearance.

“We’ve been the underdogs all year, we lost our first four games, but always knew we had something there, the powerful forward said.

“We then beat the Broncos and the Roosters in the semifinal, so we’ve got nothing to lose. Underestimated underdogs – that’s us.”

A couple of hours north of Sydney former Willagee Bear Shanice Parker now calls Newcastle home.

The daughter of 2000 World Cup Jillaroo and women’s rugby league trailblazer Danielle Parker, Shanice has been training all week for her chance to shine on the big stage, a full house on Grand Final day.

Born in Yangebup, Parker moved east in 2018 to originally play union for the NSW Waratahs, winning two premierships before returning to league with the North Sydney Bears.

A stint at the Sydney Roosters followed before pregnancy and then a move to Newcastle earlier this year as the Knights recruited her and several other players in a bid to build a winning side.

A skilful centre, with an impeccable WA heritage, Parker, 24, juggles a full-time training and match day routine with nurturing nine-moth old Jakari.

“Yeah, it’s a challenge. The commitment needed to make to to this level is intense, but it’s something I love,” Parker said.

“I was born on a rugby league field,” Parker joked. “I started playing at Willagee when I was four. The Parkers are the core of the Willagee club and I miss them, but my career is here now.”

Parker would love to see more teams in the NRLW, including from WA, where she believes there is a so much talent.

“Right now the best pathway is probably to move east where there are opportunities, but hopefully in the future WA can provide those as well,” she said.

Parker and Cherrington were teammates at the Roosters in 2019 – but tomorrow (sunday) they will be fierce rivals.

“They’re a powerhouse in the middle, especially with Kennedy there,” Parker said.

“But we think we have the edge.”

Regardless of the score, for many young women in Perth, Cherrington and Parker are winners already.