“To get to the point now where girls know we do play rugby league and it’s out there and our games have gotten a little bit of air time and the game’s growing – that in itself is such a huge accomplishment and such a dream come true.”
Allana Ferguson is a woman on a mission. As a self-confessed ‘footy head’ this passionate 25-year-old is determined to change the National Rugby League’s landscape for the better.
Unfortunately since I first spoke to Ferguson in 2017, her role in the game has switched permanently from playmaker to TV presenter after she announced her retirement in March 2018 following the third reconstruction of her right knee.
During her career she represented the Australian women’s national rugby league team and the Australian Women’s Olympic rugby 7s, has worked as a PE teacher at Woolaware High School in Sydney and has been a regular panelist on The Sunday Footy Show.
In 2018 she will continue to work in the media and explore coaching as she recovers from her injury.
Allana made history in 2016 as one of the first females to pen a professional NRL playing contract when she signed with her beloved Cronulla Sharks.
I caught up with the former Jillaroo ahead of the 2017 City2Surf.
How did you get into following and playing rugby league?
I started playing rugby league when I was five. I’ve got three brothers and basically grew up on the side of a footy field. The way that mum and dad got me to eat my veggies was, they told me if I ate my broccoli I’d be able to play league footy in the lounge room after dinner. I basically just begged mum and dad to let me play, although they were hesitant, as soon as I played my first game they were sold!
Then I played under 12s but girls could no longer play after that, so I played in the boys comp and I was the only girl that played the entire time.
Were you much of a NRL fan growing up?
I’ve lived and breathed rugby for as long as I can remember, so it’s been my life for as long as I can remember. My dream when I was little was always to grow up and play for the Cronulla Sharks, which is pretty cool because this year was the first year that we signed contracts for them.
When I was little I thought I was going to be playing with the boys and I thought I’d be playing with ET (Andrew Ettingshausen) and Paul Gallen and whatnot! But having grown up and things havin changed very recently, the exposure of the game has kind of led it to growing that little bit more.
“My dream has actually come true which is insane.”
Have your always barracked for the Sharks?
I grew up in the Sutherland Shire so I grew up going for Cronulla. That in itself is huge, they won the premiership last year which was, I mean I’ve been waiting for that to happen since I can remember, so that was pretty huge for us and the whole community. I’ve been a die-hard Sharks fan since I can remember.
Can you tell me about the NRL Women’s Series this year?
This year we signed contracts and we played for the Cronulla Sharks in 9s games but essentially they were all competition matches. We played seven matches which were all before first grade games and by the last few (games) the crowds that were turning up early enough to watch us play and the support that we got from everyone there was really starting to grow and it was really encouraging and made it that more exciting.
How do you view the success off the AFL Women’s Competition?
I think whether it’s the AFL, cricket, or the netball girls have all been doing well, the rugby 7s even winning a gold medal at the Rio Olympic Games was huge. Those sports have certainly backed their game and really produced great products to show girls and women out there that it can be done. So I think they’ve (AFLW) set a high and a really great benchmark. I hope to be involved in the game when NRL can form that competition.
Growing up and being involved in almost a man’s world, to get to the point now where girls know we do play rugby league and it’s out there and our games have gotten a little bit of air time and the game’s growing, that in itself is such a huge accomplishment and such a dream come true.
When the time comes that I have kids, regardless if I have boys or girls, I want them to have any opportunity in front of them. So it doesn’t matter if they want to play rugby league or do dancing or play netball whatever it is, whatever gender they are I want them to have those choices. I guess that’s the process we’re involved in now, is really growing our game regardless of what we play and putting it out there to Australians so it does become normal, so it does continue to grow.
It’s a great journey to be a part of and to be part of rugby league, I guess taking this pathway for the girls coming through is really exciting to be a part of.
Do you see yourself as a role model for young girls aspiring to play rugby?
Yeah absolutely. I think there’s just been so many encouraging comments… but the two greatest pieces of feedback and encouragement that I get are, the first thing is the little girls that come up and say, ‘I’ve seen you play, I want to be like you when I’m older, I’m going to start playing rugby league this year’ or ‘I’ve started playing what else can I do’.
Then also a huge one for me is the men and the dads who say, ‘You know what my daughter keeps begging me to play rugby league and I watched you and your team play and I’m going to let her play now because the things that you girls are doing are amazing, you play just as well as the boys I just didn’t know’.
That kind of feedback that we get, from firstly little girls and their families and a big one for me is always the fathers because you know they’re the footy heads and they’re the ones that have been immersed in the game forever. It’s just the fact that you know people haven’t actually seen women’s rugby league, or enough of it just yet, to know how great the standard is and how good of a game it is.
It is amazing, it’s a great opportunity and I feel very humble to be in the position to be able to be someone’s role model.
There’s some of us that are very lucky to be given that and we certainly don’t take it lightly. More so just as an opportunity to represent all women that have played, and do play now, so that the girls that are coming through can have those dreams and can see themselves doing that in the future which is amazing.
You’re a high school PE teacher, how are you juggling teaching with your rugby commitments?
I’ve always been a footy head but any sport that I can be involved in, I’ve always done it every day of the week so I’m used to juggling it! However the commitments now, whether it be between school or training, or I’m working for channel 9 as well, that it is pretty intense. I guess female athletes we’re pretty used to having to juggle those things but it’s very exciting. I’m not ready to give up teaching, I get just as much out of teaching the kids and being there for them as what I do actually playing rugby league.
I might wake up at 5am and be at the gym by 5:30, do my weights come home, go to school, come home, train or coach and then go to my own training in the afternoon and the night and then come home. So it’s pretty hectic and it does get very full on but at the same time everything that I do I love and it’s all very rewarding. I love the fact that I have the opportunity to juggle those things because not everyone does I guess.
Tell me more about your work with channel 9.
I’ve been really lucky to get to experience the media world and it’s all in relation to football, so while it can be daunting slightly at the beginning it’s not I’m like I’m getting on TV and I’m having to talk about politics it’s everything that I know!
I know everything that I’m talking about, I talk about it anyway, I just get to work with Joe (Andrew) Johns and Freddy (Brad) Fittler. When I was little they were just like heroes to me, super heroes, and now I get to work alongside them and just talk footy which is what I love doing.
I’ve been very fortunate with the media commitments that I’ve had to date and I actually really love that aspect of it, and I love that I get to speak on behalf of a female rugby league player, which hasn’t really happened as of yet so that’s really cool to get that aspect of our game out there too.
How’s your preparation going for the City2Surf?
It’s going really good. I’m excited I know that there’s going to be over 80,000 people there so I don’t know how well I’m going to do and how well I’m going to stand out, but my partner and I have been training pretty well for it. We usually have Monday’s off, because I’ve played on the weekend and I’m so sore and sorry, he’s actually doing an extra running session than I am at the moment!
We live right on the beach at Cronulla so we get up and we run three mornings a week and we’re really excited to do it, it will be great. We have a great crew that we’re running with, we’re running with a few of the Adidas crew so Beau Ryan, Christian Miranda and Dan Adair, we’ll have a good crew running so it’ll be a lot of fun and we’re very pumped for it.
Photo credits: Dave Blake Photographer – daveblake.com.au
By Anne Fedorowytsch
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