Naturally having four brothers meant Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Under-18s Origin team fullback Tess Staines had plenty of teammates, when it came to backyard footy.
The girl from Leeton in, south-east of Griffith in the NSW Riverina, even continued the tackle and wrestling techniques with brothers Brett, Glenn, Gregg and Bradd in the lounge room of the family home.
“But only when Mum was out, and we had to be very careful of her china cabinet,” Staines.
The bond with her four older brothers has remained strong. Tonight at North Sydney Oval, when Tess will proudly wear the No.1 jersey against Queensland in the first Under-18s Origin game, two of her siblings are working on a remote property in North Queensland.
So they are riding their horses over five kilometres to a higher patch of ground, so they can pick up the telecommunications signal to watch the game Live-streamed on NRL.com.
It is a part of rugby league history that their sister is playing, so they don’t want to miss it.
“Being the first under-18s is very, very exciting,” 17-year-old Tess said.
“You don’t really think about being the first ones, but we truly are setting in stone a path for all the girls coming up who aren’t big enough to play in the Open women’s yet.
“That’s so good because now the girls have that opportunity. There had always been an 18s and a 20s for the boys, as those curtain-raisers. Now we get a shot at it.”
Tess grew up in an AFL-mad area being so close to Wagga Wagga and the Victorian border.
“I played AFL when I was young – in AusKick and all that. I made an under-15s NSW AFL team and we went up to Queensland to the national championships.
“But I stopped after that. I just didn’t like the game that much. I like the physicality and the challenge of league.
“I love playing fullback with the open space I can pick and choose to insert myself. I can see everything and have enough time to work out who not to run out because they’ll probably squash me.”
Tess’ journey began playing league tag as there were no female rugby league teams playing in Leeton.
From a footy tag game, a talent scout from the Riverina Bulls open women’s team, based in Wagga 75 minutes-drive away, put the teenager in the Bulls side for the Country Championships – and they won!
“We were actually the only team at the event that didn’t have a weekend competition, so that was amazing,” Tess said.
Then she was selected for the NSW Country senior team at fullback for all three games at the Harvey Norman National Championships, including the final against NSW City, at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast earlier in June.
“I was the youngest in the NSW Country side and that was an incredible experience, even if we did lose that game,” she said. “I’m up for much more and I hope I can keep playing for a long, long time.”