Auckland, May 30, 2021
Choosing family over footy is a sentiment that Kiwi Ferns Captain Krystal Rota understands.
Rota has lingering concerns about this year’s Rugby League World Cup and she has watched other players’ priorities change.
A recent training block left Rota in doubt about who could or would make the trip to England for the World Cup in October and November.
“It was a bit hard to get a gauge of who is actually keen on the World Cup because people were worried about the pandemic. Being around other people in a training space was a bit risky for people and some people were not willing to take that risk and I guess it is just made footy second priority to family. I totally respect that because I was the same last year, I was not willing to do any sport if it put my children at risk,” she said.
Tough decisions for the sport
Kiwi Ferns have always faced tough decisions when it comes to representing the country. Previously players have had to quit jobs to go on tour or paid their own way to compete.
But Covid-19 has complicated what was to be a showpiece event for the women’s game.
For the first time, the Women’s Rugby League World Cup will run at the same time as the Men’s World Cup.
However, rather than being able to focus on the historic occasion players were weighing up whether they could afford to spend more than a month away from home and work.
The Kiwi Ferns first group stage game is against France on November 10, 2021, and the final at Old Trafford is on November 27, 2021. If the current border restrictions stand, players will need to be in Managed Isolation and Quarantine on return to New Zealand for two weeks.
Administrators and men’s players said that the motivation of playing for New Zealand at a World Cup should be enough of a reason to commit.
Rota gave them a reality check.
“Although it is a World Cup, people’s lives don’t revolve around a World Cup, you still need income to support your family and live day-to-day life. It is definitely not that easy to just up and leave to go to a World Cup. If we were full-time professionals who got paid a decent salary package or a contract that was long-term that covered all these uncertainties then it would be easy. But unfortunately, it is not that easy because we have to take time off work in order to travel and sometimes jobs don’t want to grant those types of things,” Rota said.
Rota was a teenager when she was first around the fringes of the New Zealand Rugby League environment but she missed selection for the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.
It was a time in her life when Rugby League was not her main focus.
Her mother was battling cancer and things happening in Rota’s personal life were a distraction; so, she took a break.
While she was away from the game she had daughter Nikayla.
Nikayla has a rare kidney disorder and has had a kidney transplant.
Her daughter and son’s wellbeing were now front of mind when Rota made decisions, including whether she could make it to the World Cup.
“Anytime I leave her (Nikayla), whether it is for a day or potentially a month, it is a bit scary. So, with the World Cup being so far away, I am worried about being stuck there or things being held up with quarantine, all those things that are uncertain are a bit of a challenge for me to commit to something not knowing what could potentially happen,” Rota said.
She did not play her first game for New Zealand until 2016, after getting a call-up to the Kiwi Ferns squad in 2015.
She captained the team for the first time last year against Fetu Samoa and now the daughter of top club Rugby League player, Roger Rota, faced with some complex decisions about what happened in her rugby league career over the coming months.
New Zealand Rugby League wanted Test matches for Kiwi Ferns and Kiwis against Australia following the conclusion of the NRL in early October and before the teams left for England for the World Cup, as a warm-up for the pinnacle event.
The Australia-based players have had a training camp in recent weeks and something similar is planned for those in New Zealand.
Other preparations to avenge the 2017 World Cup final loss to the Jillaroos would involve New Zealand’s top players turning out for their clubs and National Premiership sides.
But the opportunity for players to play at the next tier, Australia’s women’s National Rugby League (NRLW), in the weeks before the World Cup was still unclear.
After two seasons playing for the women’s Warriors side in the NRLW, Rota opted not to be involved in last year’s team.
Due to Covid-19 border restrictions the team was based in Australia throughout the 2020 NRLW and was predominantly made up of Australian players with just five New Zealand-based players making the move across the Tasman for the competition.
The year that was
Rota said that she could not commit last year because the notice was short, she had to relocate with Covid-19, she did not want to take any risks especially involving her children.
“I would love to be a part of it again. I missed not being able to play last season but again out of the two I would much rather pick a World Cup than a NRLW season,” Rota said.
The Warriors have not responded to questions from RNZ about whether the Club will have an NRLW team in 2021.
The financial viability of the Women’s team was in the spotlight and Club Chief Executive Cameron George said last year that the privately-owned Club could not afford to keep fully-funding the women’s team.
George told the government’s Epidemic Response Committee last year that the women’s side was at risk of being cut and in response, the Club received $200,000 from the Sport Recovery Package to ease financial pressure.
Rota was also in the dark about the Warriors involvement in the competition this year that is expected to be expanded from four to six teams and be played in the weeks before the end of the men’s NRL.
“If girls have to take a couple of months off to play NRLW and then also take another duration off for the World Cup that is a long, long time away from home,” she said.
Felicity Reid is a Sports Journalist at Radio New Zealand. The above story has been published under a special agreement with www.rnz.co.nz