Karina Brown is a two Time World Cup Winner with the Australia Jillaroos, Captain of the QLD State of Origin Team and is currently playing for the Sydney Roosters in the inaugural Women’s Rugby League Competition. We chatted to Karina Brown about how to be a leader on the field, the juggle of work and semi-professional sport and also helping grow the NRLW game.
You have been playing Rugby League for Nine Seasons. What sports did you play before and what made you want to play Rugby League?
I played all sports growing up. I started playing Touch and Soccer in Year 4 & 5. In year 7 I had the opportunity to play Rugby League with the boys, so I did that and absolutely loved it. Unfortunately after that year, I went into High School and at that time females weren’t allowed to play anymore. I focused on Touch and played all through high school. When I finished school, I had a friend from Touch that had invited me to come and play Rugby League. I couldn’t believe that it existed and I jumped at the opportunity. I had only ever watched Rugby League, apart from, playing when I was 12. I couldn’t really remember how to play, they were short on numbers and put me in the front row. I got absolutely smashed and basically quit that day. They lured me back the following week and I started at Wing and eventually found my way into Full Back.
You are living in Brisbane, but playing for the Sydney Roosters. What does your average week look like?
Very busy! We are used to that, being a semi professional athlete you have to do it all. Whether you are a mum, studying or have a Full time job like myself. I am just very fortunate about the support I get not only from my company, but the Sydney Roosters. They allow me to do what I need to do to perform the best on the field and professionally. I am very grateful to both of those companies for letting me do what I do and play my passion.
My company have allowed me to work from the Sydney office, or from my hotel room for admin duties. I am doing two days in Brisbane where I can have meetings and then in Sydney for the other days. It just helps me to settle and I do fly everywhere with my job and just for this month they have allowed me to limit that travel, just so I can get the right sleep, eat properly, train as well as fulfilling my work duties.
The second round of the NRLW has just finished, unfortunately you haven’t got a win on the board yet. However, it doesn’t mean you are out of the top two. What are you working on going into next weeks game?
Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to get a win yet. We didn’t play a trial and I think that has sort of showed. In Round One we were a bit disjointed. In Round Two, I actually thought we played a lot better, there was a lot of improvement. I thought we were a bit unlucky, missing two opportunities at the start of the game. There were a lot of positives that came from the game, it’s now just about keeping ourselves up beat. We have been watching the videos and we know what we need to do and it is now just about executing it. For now, we are just trying to get some confidence, having a good week at training and get our combinations right. We still have another chance, it isn’t over yet. Whether we are playing for third or a spot in the grand final We just need to put our best foot forward on Saturday.
Have you had any coaches that have shaped who you are today or someone who has helped you become a professional athlete?
Basically all of them. Right from primary school to now. I can’t really name one, I have just tried to be a sponge.
Every coach I have had I have tried to take something away from them and that is what has probably helped me become the athlete I am today.
It is about drawing on their strengths and working with them to get better. I have been very fortunate to have Brad Donald who is the coach of the Jillaroo’s, we just won the World Cup, which says a lot about his coaching ability. What I like about Brad is his ability to bring the team together and bring out our individual strengths.
I have also had Tani Norris who played for the Jillaroos, Tani coached the Burleigh Bears and we won two premierships under her. I think the biggest thing is how you can bring a team together and that is what we need to do with the Sydney Roosters on the weekend. It isn’t about being an individual player, but being a team.
You had your Origin camp this year and you were captain of the team. You had Trevor Gillmeister, Allan Langer and head coach was Jason Hetherington. How valuable was it having Ex-Queensland greats and what insight did they offer you?
It was extremely valuable, they brought over a decade of experience from the men’s campaign. I think what I like the best was the simplicity, they just keep things simple. That’s what they do in the mens and that is what they brought over to the womens game. Anything could of happened in the final minutes of the game and unfortunately NSW got the win, but it was a real arm wrestle and that is a credit to the coaches. Their experience, leadership and simple game plan.
You have been instrumental in creating pathways for women in Rugby League, especially at Club Level. You have played a part in creating two teams in the Womens Rugby League, Burleigh Bears and Easts Rugby League. How did you play a part in this?
I actually started playing for Runaway Bay for a year and then I moved overseas and travelled. When I came back there was no Gold Coast team. The CEO moved from Runaway Bay to Burleigh Bears. I just went and spoke to him and said I wanted to create a womens team on the Gold Coast. It was a lot of hard work, this was about 7 years ago. He was great, he said go for it, but I had to run it all. I was only 23 and kept building the club each year and I won two premierships with Burleigh Bears and I left two years ago to start a team in Brisbane, the Easts Tigers and they have since go on to win another two finals. I just love seeing the game grow.
It is great to hold the trophies up, but it is about the growth of the game and that is what is really important to me. I am trying to grow the game and get new people interested. I try share what I have learned, my experiences and my knowledge of the game with others.
The NRL season is only four weeks. Three weeks of games and then finals, but it is only the first year and it has been really successful. Where would you like to see the game go from here?
It has been unreal. Now that I am actually in it, I wish there was more. I think there will be next year because it has been really well received, great football on display and I think the game has gone about it the right way. We have a lot of sponsors on board and really positive media around it. I would like to see the game potentially go to a longer season, potentially add more teams in, but that’s not for me to decide, that is for the NRL. I just trust in their judgement and I can’t wait to play more footy.
Do you think the next step would be adding in another home and away round or would it be adding in another team? Do you think the Womens Competition has the depth?
I think a home and away round would be perfect, the depth is coming, we are nearly there. Whatever the NRL decides, as long as it keeps moving forward. It doesn’t matter the steps as long as it keeps expanding.
You recently broke your jaw in two places at the very end of a club game, with the competition on the horizon, how did you get yourself ready to go so quickly? What were your key things you did to help your body recover?
I have had four surgeries before I broke my jaw, so I had built the resilience up. So when I did break my jaw I wasn’t down and out. I just googled the injury and it said 6 weeks, I looked at my calendar and saw how many weeks I had and there was 7. I spoke to the surgeon and he said I might be right. I was “what do you mean, google said it was 6 weeks and I had 7.” Basically, when I broke my jaw, the week after surgery you lose a lot of weight, I’m not that big to begin with. I am 65kg and I got down to 58kg. I knew I had to get back up, it is probably the worst injury in terms of pain, but the best in terms of rehab, because all you need to do is eat. So I just ate anything that came past me, fortunately after 6 weeks of a lot of eating, I put all of the weight back on and got the tick of approval. I have to admit round one, I was bit scared and bit tentative in the first half, by the second half I found my rhythm and then second round I didn’t even think about it.
You are the captain of the maroons in state of origin. Lots of young girls and boys might be aspiring to be captain of their club and eventually state. What leadership advice would you give to them?
Firstly, anyone can be a leader. We are all leaders, when you are on the field, you have a job to do, it’s not just about the captain leading. You need to make sure you do your role for the team. If being a captain is something you want, you need to lead by example, lead through the front and lead through your actions, It is also about bringing out the best in people. So what can you do to help your team mate be the best they can be? Can you show them a new skill, can you do extras… they are the little one percenters that people don’t see that make people a great leader.
You were recently stopped by NRL legend, Petero Civoniceva, who wanted to personally thank you for what you are doing for Women’s Rugby League. How much did this mean to you?
Going back nine years ago I would of been shocked to see someone like him in the street. Petro coming up to me! I am just Karina. It is more than that and I think all of the women now see that. We are role models and we now have young girls and even boys who are striving to play Rugby League as a professional sport and they can now do that.
I think there has been a 28% growth in girls playing Rugby League, which is huge and I am very grateful to be a part of that and it is a responsibility I take with both hands. Any opportunity I get to go an see grassroots Football and be around the young girls, and now they can see they can be a professional Rugby league player is amazing.
At the Sydney Rooster Launch a couple of weeks a go, the first ever Sydney Roosters men team was in 1908 and now the first every Sydney Roosters team in 2018, so it took 110 years to get to this point and how lucky am I to run out and live my dream and pioneer the pathway for the next generation.