Papua New Guinea captain Elsie Albert admits it was once impossible to envision lacing up the boots and leading her nation out at the Women’s Rugby League World Cup.
“Not in a million years…you wouldn’t think a female PNG team would be taking part in a World Cup,” she told 5 Live’s Rugby League World Cup podcast.
The 26-year-old has established herself as one of the most feared forwards in the game due to her bone rattling hits and powerful running for St George Illawarra Dragons.
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In 2020, she became the first homegrown Papua New Guinean woman to feature in the NRL Women’s Premiership, when she joined the Dragons.
While before that achievement, she was the first PNG-based woman to secure an Australian rugby league deal when she inked a contract with South Logan.
Albert certainly looks a natural out on the pitch, but her journey to playing the sport actually only began five years ago.
“I started playing when I watched the 2017 World Cup,” she recalled.
“The girls came down and played the World Cup, but I couldn’t play as soon as possible.
“I waited until I left my parents and I was on my own and that’s when I had control over my life.”
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The PNG women made history five years ago when they played in the tournament, although it was a difficult inception in front of their own home crowd in Port Moresby as they lost all three matches.
Despite being the national sport in the country, they became PNG’s first national women’s rugby league team.
“I thought they were really inspirational, given like I said before, Papua New Guinea is seen as a country where we’re second to men,” Albert said.
“For us girls, for them to break that cycle and be the first pioneer girls to come over and play in the World Cup is inspirational. Because of them I am where I am today.”
Albert is now a pioneer herself having earned a contract in the NRLW, while leading her nation against Canada in their opening match on Wednesday morning (AEDT).
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PNG claimed their first World Cup victory ever with a 34-12 win over the Ravens. It was sweet revenge after being beaten by them in the previous instalment of the tournament and a marker for how far they have come in such a short space of time.
“It’s about pride, honour and changing the mindset of our fellow Papua New Guineans back at home,” Albert declared about the team’s intentions in England.
“When I run out as captain, I think about the girls back home who are inspired by me to play rugby league or are sitting at home not knowing what to do,” she said ahead of the tournament.
“It’s about inspiring the next generation of girls to play rugby league, or those who want to do things in other male-dominated areas. If you put your mind and hard work into anything, you can achieve it.”
PNG’s coach, Ben Jeffries, was glowing in his praise for the side after their historic victory. He hoped it was just the beginning, with dreams of reaching the knockout stages edging closer towards reality.
“These women are here to compete, and they are here to change the face of rugby league in Papua New Guinea,” Jeffries said. “They are going to do it, too.”