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Curtain's pathway reveals a window into NRLW's future

Emily Curtain started playing rugby league alongside her twin sister Sophie when they were in primary school.

Now she is set to be signed by Parramatta as part of their inaugural Telstra Women’s Premiership team and is an example of the next generation of women who have benefitted from the introduction of improved female pathways in NSW.

The NRLW is already of such a high quality and the women who play are strong, physical and athletic. But imagine what this next generation can achieve with an unbroken pathway?

From under 8s until under 12s, the Curtain twins played for Eagle Vale St Andrews. Like many women of their generation, when they reached age 12, they thought they would have to stop playing footy.

But there was an alternative solution - find a girls team.

In response to the lack of opportunity for girls to play footy, the twins’ coach at the time, Shannon Dengate decided to take matters into his own hands and started a competition for girls in Western Sydney.

Emily and Sophie Curtain represented NSW under 18s in 2019.
Emily and Sophie Curtain represented NSW under 18s in 2019. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

From small beginnings that competition has continued to grow and now the girls playing in that competition have the opportunity to play against Penrith and Cronulla.

Fortunately, the Curtain twins have also continued to play rugby league and both women have played for the Wests Tigers and progressed through the Tarsha Gale Cup, the Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership and now for Emily, progression into the NRLW.

"It shows that there is a pathway for young girls to come through," Emily said.

"It means those young girls aren’t always thinking about where they will play after they turn 12.

Young girls aren’t always thinking about where they will play after they turn 12.

Emily Curtain

"NSW have helped create these competitions and it means that these young girls have something to look forward to and to continue to aspire to."

The real joy of this progression is that initially, the twins played purely because they loved footy and wanted to be physically active with their friends.

At that point they were unaware Australia had a women’s rugby league team.

"I didn’t know that women were playing at a more elite level. We played because the boys played and we wanted to play too.

"It wasn’t until two or three years after we played with the girls that we found out about the Tigers' Tarsha Gale team.

"Three-quarters of the team ended up being made up of girls from my school."

The progression of women like Curtain into the NRLW is exciting because we will now begin to see women at the elite level who have had the benefit of a complete pathway.

When Curtain received the call from Eels NRLW manager Andy Patmore, she was absolutely thrilled. So were her family.

"Getting this opportunity is a once in a lifetime, so you have to take the opportunity with both hands and show people why you deserve the position you have been put in," she said.

"Andy told me that he was happy with how I played for the Tigers this year and that they really liked my long-distance kicking, so that gives me some confidence heading into the season."

Emily Curtain on the charge for the Wests Tigers.
Emily Curtain on the charge for the Wests Tigers. ©weststigers.com.au

Curtain will be part of a squad already boasting some of the most talented players in the NRLW, including Simaima Taufa, Kennedy Cherrington and Tiana Penitani.

Nita Maynard and Rikeya Horne have also been added to the growing squad along with Curtain's captain from the Wests Tigers' Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership team, Botille Vette-Welsh.

"I’ve been playing with Bo for the last two seasons so I am looking forward to playing alongside her in the big arena.

"She is an exceptional leader and does so much for all of us at the Tigers. Bo is always organising things for us off the field, but on the field she always encourages us and is so focused on helping us get to where we want to be."

But my biggest question for Curtain is whether signing with the Eels will make her a Parramatta fan due to her conflicted loyalties, given she already plays for the Tigers in the NSW Women’s Premiership.

Her response was a firm no. "Definitely not, not a chance," she said.

Curtain is actually a lifelong St George Illawarra supporter and despite being the cousin of former Eels forward Mitchell Allgood, she assures me that her loyalties will not shift.

"But I am so excited about playing in the NRLW and so grateful for the opportunity," she said. "I want to learn new things, progress my game and take the next step."