Three Aus­tralian league teams pre­pare to­gether as united front

Weekend Herald - - Your Sporting Weekend - Brad Wal­ter nrl.com

Vet­eran prop Heather Ballinger didn't know un­til she checked in at Bris­bane Air­port ahead of her fi­nal test in Auck­land to­day that all three Aus­tralian teams — the Kan­ga­roos, Jil­la­roos and Ju­nior Kan­ga­roos — were trav­el­ling to­gether on their own char­tered flight.

The game has come a long way since 36-year-old Ballinger and team­mates had to sell cars or rely on raf­fles to af­ford to play for the Jil­la­roos and at­tempts are be­ing made to en­sure any player who wears the green and gold jersey is treated the same, re­gard­less of whether they are male or fe­male, re­ports nrl.com.

The Aus­tralian teams spent two days in camp to­gether at the same ho­tel be­fore fly­ing to Auck­land, tak­ing part in joint bond­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and trav­el­ling on their own plane.

“To work to­gether as one big unit is great, it helps to bond the teams to­gether,” Ballinger said. “I go back to a time when we had to pay our own way, make do with what we could af­ford at the time and just have what­ever play­ers could af­ford to go away.

“Now we can se­lect our best play­ers and take them away and en­sure they are fed well, hy­drated well, re­cov­ered well, trained well and put out on the field qual­ity foot­ball that peo­ple can en­joy.

“I didn't find out about the plane un­til we went to the air­port but that is ex­cel­lent work done by the NRL to put that on and I guess it just brings us to­gether as a united squad.”

Kan­ga­roos coach Mal Meninga es­ti­mated that there were 100 peo­ple in­volved with the three teams so it was cheaper and eas­ier to char­ter their own plane to Auck­land.

How­ever, the ef­forts to bring the sides to­gether went far be­yond shar­ing an aero­plane. The teams stayed at the same ho­tel in Bris­bane and on Sun­day night Meninga took them to Enog­gera Bar­racks, also known as Gal­lipoli Bar­racks, where they had din­ner and he out­lined why it was im­por­tant that the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of World War I be hon­oured.

“We want to ac­knowl­edge and com­mem­o­rate 100 years of Ar­mistice Day and the Armed Ser­vices, and what they have done for our coun­try," Meninga said. “It is im­por­tant from our point of view to say thanks to all of those men and women who have

We want to ac­knowl­edge and com­mem­o­rate 100 years of Ar­mistice Day and the Armed Ser­vices, and what they have done for our coun­try. Mal Meninga, Kan­ga­roos coach

served and al­lowed us to be what we are to­day.”

Un­der Meninga's coach­ing reign, the Kan­ga­roos have in­tro­duced a se­ries of val­ues for play­ers to fol­low known as RISE — Re­spect, In­spire, Self­less, Ex­cel­lence — and the play­ers heard that the Armed Forces have a sim­i­lar set of prin­ci­ples.

“Part of our RISE value sys­tem is around self­less­ness, it is around mate­ship, it is about be­ing in­clu­sive and team first, re­gard­less of whether you are male or fe­male or a Ju­nior Kan­ga­roo,” Meninga said. “It is the ex­pec­ta­tion of any player, male or fe­male, in the green and gold jersey.”

An ex­am­ple of Meninga's de­ter­mi­na­tion to have all play­ers af­forded the same op­por­tu­nity was his re­sponse to a ques­tion about the “women's game” be­ing played be­fore the Kan­ga­roos-Ki­wis test to­day.

“Ev­ery time we talk about the game we ac­tu­ally mean men and women, boys and girls,” Meninga said. “It is all in­clu­sive, it is all equal for ev­ery­one who par­tic­i­pates in our game at the high­est end.

“It is not a cur­tain-raiser, it is not a sep­a­rate game, it is a dou­ble-header or in this case a triple-header, with the Ju­nior Kan­ga­roos and Ki­wis play­ing too.”

Jil­la­roos sec­ond-rower Kezie Apps said the in­tro­duc­tion of the Holden NRL Women's Pre­mier­ship this sea­son had lifted the pro­file of the game's fe­male play­ers and their Kan­ga­roos coun­ter­parts were sup­port­ive of the com­pe­ti­tion.

“It was awe­some to be to­gether as one big group, to stay at the same ho­tel as them and to do ac­tiv­i­ties to­gether,” Apps said. “It was just a re­ally nice feel­ing that we are be­ing treated the same — the men and women.

“The boys are great, we were talk­ing to some of them and they were say­ing how much they loved it [the NRLW], and they were ask­ing ques­tions about the play­ers and how we do things. It was re­ally good to hear that they ac­tu­ally fol­lowed us in the Women's Pre­mier­ship.

“We look up to them as play­ers and as ath­letes and now we are get­ting the op­por­tu­nity to play just like they are play­ing, week in and week out.”

Kan­ga­roos for­ward Tyson Frizell said the three Aus­tralian teams would con­tinue help­ing each other in Auck­land in a bid to achieve a hat-trick of vic­to­ries over New Zealand.

“It is the first time all of us be­ing to­gether and I think Mal wants us all to be on the same page.”

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