Ali Brigginshaw is the current five eight for the Jillaroos and is the inaugural captain of the Broncos Women’s team. We chat to her about coaching, playing junior Rugby League and why her dad not letting her play rugby league for a year and making her practice the Rugby League Fundamentals, helped set her up for success as a player and rugby league coach.
You will be playing for the Brisbane Broncos in the inaugural Women’s Rugby League competition. You grew up supporting the Broncos, what does it mean to you, to be able to pull on the jumper and did you ever think this would happen?
I didn’t think it would ever happen, it is a dream come true. It isn’t only a dream that I have reached, but for young girls they can now have this opportunity. You walk around the crowd and to see young girls say ‘ I want to be a Bronco.’ It doesn’t matter what sport you are doing as long as there are girls wanting to venture further. That is one thing really took from our trial matches.
There are young girls and boys saying they want to be a Bronco and it is great to see how much they love the game.
It not only shows young girls that women play Rugby League it shows young boys that female can also play.
Yeah, we had both young girls and boys wanting us to sign the mens Broncos Jersey. They don’t care as long as we are a Bronco.
Your father was the first influence you had in Rugby League. Would you say he was your first coach?
When I was nine, I wanted to play Rugby League, but Dad refused to let me play. I was thinking ‘Dad played, why can’t I?” He wanted to teach me how to tackle first, so I spent a year learning how to tackle. Every afternoon the kids would come from across the street and my brother would come outside and I would just tackle them. When I turned 10, he took me to over to play. At the time I didn’t like him for not letting me play, but I am forever grateful because I feel like he has taught me everything I need to know at a young age.
Tackling is a big part of the game from a safety perspective, so to be able to learn how to tackle properly is important…
That’s the biggest thing in Rugby League, girls need to learn how to tackle from a young age and that is something that needs to be installed from the age of six. Girls are built smaller than men. That is one thing I have always been really grateful for, is learning how to tackle from a young age.
U12’s you played for Met West in the Boys competition. You were the very first girl to do this. What was that experience like, or was it no different to you because you were just going out there to play Rugby League?
At the time it probably was no different, I was too young at the time to realise that it was such a big deal. I would go to the carnivals and I would be the only girl, people would be talking about me, parents and kids would all be making a big deal out of it. At the time I didn’t think it was a big issue, but my poor mum and dad had to listen to all these people talk and I am sure it always wasn’t nice things. I am very grateful to be able to have played along side those boys and I am still good mates with some of them and go and watch them play. I get messages from the guys I played with when I was ten saying good luck [for the game]. That experience gave me confidence and I still think girls at that age can play with the boys. I don’t think it needs to be seperate because it does give you confidence to go out there and tackle the boys.
Is it true that you actually beat Chris Sandow for a player of the match award?
I was playing for Met West and we were playing against Wide Bay. I actually got player of the match for that game, I was playing dummy half. In u12’s you weren’t actually allowed to run, my job was to tackle.
Dad used to give me a dollar for every tackle I made. I used to run around the field trying to tackle whoever I could and it was the bigger, the better. I use to try and find the bigger guys and tackle them.
I would probably score one try every couple of weeks, and I would get the confidence to run from dummy half. Defence was my thing when I was younger, I just wanted to tackle and now I like think I am a ball player.
Have you had much criticism because you are a woman playing a male dominant sport?
I probably did when I was younger. When I would say I played Rugby League for Australia people would think I was making it up. At the time you think how do you not know that there is an Australian women’s team?. In the past 5 years I haven’t heard a bad word about female Rugby League, everyone you speak to is so supportive and want to come and watch. I think it is definitely growing and it is only going to get bigger in the future.
Peta Curtain was your first coach. Why do you think she had such a profound impact on you, not only as a player but as a person?
Peta was the only female coach in the space at the time. She was the coach of boys team and I could see she didn’t care that she was a female and she knew she could coach just as well as the men. I thought if she can do it, I can do it. She gave me the confidence to get through my younger days and I would like to follow in her foot steps. I would love to coach boys teams and I love coaching young girls and coaching in general. I would like to go into that in the future.
You are on the PlayBook website as a coach. What is your coaching philosophy and what do you think you can do to help athletes with their game and confidence?
I would work on defence, but that is probably weird coming from a half. I think defence for me is after I make my first tackle I get confident to then run the ball and play my game. I would like to coach smaller girls learning how to defend. It doesn’t matter your size you can still learn how to tackle. I like to think I can tackle just as well as the forwards and that is because I practiced over time. So that is definitely something I would like to teach young girls and give them the confidence that it doesn’t matter what size you are. Also, passing skills that I have learnt from Touch.
Finally, you have your first game for the Holden Women’s Rugby League Competition. How are you feeling and do you have any pre game rituals?
I don’t really have any pre game rituals. I just liked to be strapped first because I am an on time person and don’t like being late. We are definitely excited, we had a trial match and we had a few errors. We now have the confidence as we have experience playing in front of a crowd. Our forwards are strong and I am keen to see our forwards.
Tune in to the game on Sunday 1:45pm at Suncorp Stadium. You can watch it on channel nine and Fox Sports.
Interviewed by Kate McCarthy (Team PlayBook and Brisbane Lions AFLW)