“Football is life for us”: Cunnamulla girls share outback final win
For Poppy Collins and Abbey Pender, footy is a way of life and they will stop at nothing to get some time on the field - including driving five hours to Roma for a grand final game.
The pair from Cunnamulla State School played as ring-ins for the St John's School under-17 side in the grand final of the Outback Secondary Schoolgirls' Challenge on Friday, facing off with a formidable team from Roma State College, which had gone undefeated during the whole six-week season.
As a bonus to playing high-calibre footy, the girls got to celebrate a 38-8 win with their new teammates.
"I feel so happy that the girls have won, because I have heard some really good news about them," Poppy said.
"And I'm just so happy that we got to be a part of their team when they did win the grand final."
During this carnival, the pair originally joined the Charleville State High School side but jumped at the chance to play for St John's when the opportunity came knocking.
"There are heaps of girls playing footy in Cunnamulla," Poppy said.
"What we loved about this carnival is that we got to meet new people and play the game we love.
"Football is life for us, I guess, especially when we've got to travel five hours away just to play - it obviously says something about how much we love it."
Players and organisers are hopeful the carnival can run again in the future, having proven its popularity among young women from eastern towns such as Taroom and out to Cunnamulla in the west.
With so many girls at her school who loved to play footy, Poppy told the Western Times there would have been enough people for the state school to have its own team.
However a condition of playing in the Outback Secondary Schoolgirls' Challenge was that players maintained a high level of behaviour and school attendance and it meant a number of girls across all schools involved didn't get to hit the field this year.
More than a chance to play rugby league at a fairly high level, the competition became a valuable incentive for the girls to keep themselves in check at school, particularly at Roma State College, where coach Amy Kramer said her group of girls had seen tremendous personal growth.
"Rugby league is a huge part of school life here," she said earlier in the season.
"It keeps the girls' attendance high and their behaviour has to be pretty good to be on the team."