Harvey Norman NSW Women’s State of Origin Coach Kylie Hilder and Women’s Origin captain Kezie Apps have shared their inspiring stories of the obstacles they had to overcome in Rugby League at a recent luncheon to celebrate International Women’s Day.
The tight-knit pair are genuine trailblazers in Women’s Rugby League. After calling time on an illustrious playing career, Hilder was recently announced as the NSW Women’s Origin team coach, while Apps boasts a decorated representative career, including leading NSW to an Origin win in 2019.
Apps’ love of Rugby League stems from a desire to play with her brothers but once her talent became clear, they encouraged her to sign up with the Bega Roosters.
“I was the only girl, I rocked up to training and the boys were just looking at me like, ‘What the hell? Why is this girl here?’" said Apps.
“Soon I was one of the better players, back then I towered over the boys so they would just give me the ball and I would score.”
With Apps unable to play past the age of 12, the impact she made on the young side was evident to the point that one of the boys cried to his Dad that one of their best players was unable to play anymore.
After switching to hockey, Apps’ Rugby League dream seemed to have stalled. It wasn’t until she saw the Jillaroos historic 2013 World Cup victory on the news that she started looking for a club again.
The 2016 Women’s Dally M Medallist eventually linked with Helensburgh Tigers in 2014 but the road back to Rugby League was literally a long one. Apps still commutes over five hours to play in the Wollongong region but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I absolutely love it; it was the best decision I ever made,” said Apps. “The amazing people you meet, the places you go, it’s something that has changed my life.”
Overcoming challenges is also nothing new for Hilder. After an incredibly successful touch football career which included Four World Cups (two womens and two mixed), Hilder began her Rugby League career in 2009 and representative honours soon followed.
Coming from a Rugby League background, it seemed inevitable Hilder would continue the sport into her adult years, although the lack of pathways for women meant touch was the only option.
“Growing up I always wanted to play Rugby League but there was no opportunity for me to play," said Hilder.
“The reason I started playing touch football was because it was the only way I could get a football in my hands.”
When asked about the obstacles Hilder encountered throughout her career, her answer demonstrates just how far the sport has come in such a short amount of time.
“We were playing Origin out at Penrith Stadium and we literally got dressed out in the car park before we played, and we were given a jersey that was 20 times bigger than what we needed," she said.
“(NSWRL Chief Executive) David Trodden and the board at NSWRL have done an awesome job with the women’s game at NSWRL so we’re getting to that elite level now.”
This season will see the pair attempt to etch their name in the history books one more time by bringing the Origin trophy back to NSW, this time as player and coach.