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Pair top class in school of hard knocks
Yasmin Meakes and Mel Howard will be out to teach a bunch of unruly northerners a lesson or two when they take the field with the NSW Women against the Queensland Maroons in Friday’s State of Origin match.
They are teachers at Scone and Newcastle, respectively, and are the first to be chosen for the NSW XIII, which has won the previous two interstate clashes played under the Origin format.
The pair are aware they are role models for their students; and it’s not just the girls.
“One of the boys told me he was going to make sure he watched me play in the Origin,” Melanie, who is a classroom teacher at Wakefield School, Newcastle, said.
“There are a few footy girls who are pretty into it and excited [by the Origin match]. Hopefully, they can see a pathway they can take one day for themselves.”
Yasmin teaches year 7–10 PDHPE at Scone High School and said: “The kids think it’s the coolest thing, especially in a small country town, seeing someone able to still achieve things.”
The pair play for the Central Coast Roosters who won this year’s NSW women’s minor premiership and went on to beat North Sydney in this year’s grand final. While NSW has the form line coming into Friday night’s match — having won the previous two interstate clashes — the Queenslanders have the home turf advantage at the Sunshine Coast Stadium.
Mel has played league — along with rugby 7s, touch and hockey — since she was five and will start the match in the pivotal halfback role. Yasmin, who was signed to the Australian Rugby 7s squad to play at the Tokyo Olympics before COVID-19 struck, crossed over to league this season.
Yasmin agrees the women’s game has a reputation for ferocity beyond the almost genteel men’s version: “It’s definitely true and I don’t know why that is.
“Listening to everyone talk about the previous years [of Origin], it sounds like a war-like kind of thing. I’m excited for that though, I like the physical side of the game.”
Initially, the players had to take leave without pay to prepare for the game as the special leave provisions for representative sport have not kept pace with the evolution of women’s sport. After they contacted Federation, the union made representations to the Department who quickly saw the importance of supporting such positive role models for public school students. Women's Rugby League is now on the list of additional sports eligible for special leave and the Department converted Mel and Yasmin’s leave without pay to special leave.
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