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Australian women set to stun the gridiron world

Australian Outback Gridiron

Women’s sport may be on an exponential rise in Australia at the moment, but there are some niche codes like gridiron still struggling to get a foothold.

Gridiron was barely a blip on the Australian sporting scene before 1979.

Now, the nation is on the cusp of sending its first female representative team, led by the first woman to coach in the National Football League, to play on the international stage.

But with little to no sponsorship available to them, players selected for the Australian Outback Gridiron team – who will compete at the IFAF Women’s World Championship in Canada in June – have had to turn to crowdfunding to get there.

Carmela Roche

Australian Outback Gridiron team member, Renee Targett

Renee Targett set up a Go Fund Me (an online donation page) to raise funds for the trip, which will cover expenses such as registration, uniforms and travel costs.

The 22-year-old from NSW, who plays Safety, was chosen as part of the 52-player strong Outback roster, announced in February after a training camp.

“To be able to say I am a part of it is truly humbling,” Targett said.

“I feel so honoured to have the opportunity to showcase my skills for my country, my teammates, my coaches and my friends and family.

“Due to lack of awareness of the sport there are little to no sponsors to relieve some of the financial burden.

“Every athlete would love to be able to say they have represented their country and this is why this [Go Fund Me] campaign is so important to me.

“It would be my dream to make history and help pave the way in women’s sport.”

A majority of the Outback team hail from NSW, ACT, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.

Rhyanna Edbrooke, an offence lineswoman, is the sole representative from Western Australia.

In what is believed to be a world first, Indigenous woman Grace Power has been selected for the Australian representative gridiron team.

The 21-year-old wide receiver from Queensland got her start in Brisbane’s lingerie league.

“Yes we had to wear lingerie, but I tell you what – these girls are fit and take it seriously, they’re monsters,” Power told SBS television station, NITV, in March.

Power almost gave up football when her team’s season was cancelled right before game one.

“I felt so let down,” she said.

“We put 10 weeks of hard-core training and didn’t even get a chance to play a game.”

Luckily enough, the Bayside Ravens Gridiron Club noticed the team training and did not want their efforts going to waste.

The club decided to start their very own first female full kit team.

Power’s Bayside teammates Marissa Hayes, Samantha Harris and Kestra Triasmono will join the young Indigenous woman in Canada in June, having also been selected for the Outback team.

While money has been an issue for the Outback team, mainstream media attention has not been.

Players have been receiving covering in their local newspapers as well as city publications and television stations such as NITV and SBS Viceland program The Feed.

Australian Outback Gridiron

The Australian Outback Gridiron team were featured in SBS Viceland program, The Feed.

The Australian Outback Gridiron women’s team will be competing for the very first time in the IFAF championship of American football in Langley, Canada between June 24 and 30.

In accordance with IFAF Rules, the final squad of 45 players will be named by team management immediately before the tournament.

Selection, to be made by Australian head coach Jen Welter and her coaching staff, will come down to which players will make Australia as competitive as possible.

Welter has a long history with the game, and has played a leading role in smashing down barriers for women in the sport.

She was a college rugby player who transitioned to football after graduating.

Welter, who has a master’s degree in sport psychology and a doctorate in psychology, played 14 seasons professionally, most of them with the Dallas Diamonds of the Women’s Football Alliance.

She helped lead them to four championships.

Welter was a member of the US team that won gold at the IFAF Women’s World Championship in 2010 and 2013.

In 2014, she became the first female football player to suit up for a men’s team at somewhere other than kicker, playing running back for Texas Revolution.

In 2015 the Arizona Cardinals announced Welter would be joining the team as a training camp and preseason interim linebacker coach, making her the first woman to take a coaching position in NFL history.

Matilda Quist

Australian Outback Gridiron Coach, Jen Welter (right), with Australian Outback Gridiron team member, Matilda Quist (left)

This year, she is head coach of the Outback women’s team.

In a statement released by Gridiron Australia, Welter said she was honoured to have the role.

“I hope other teams will follow suit and continue to open doors and expand the roles of women in football and sport as a whole,” she said.

Australia will face Canada in the opening round of the 2017 women’s gridiron championship and Mexico the next day.

Who they face after that will be decided on results from other games.

Ellie-Marie Watts is a journalist for Grassroots Sports, Newcastle Northstars (AIHL team) and Fairfax Media. She has a passion for sport, in particular grassroots sports such as ice hockey, gridiron and roller derby, and telling stories about athletes, overcoming adversity and triumph. Through Grassroots Sports Ellie hopes to help promote the emerging sports she loves into the forefront of the Australian public’s mind, chart their rise, take a few photos (another passion of hers) and tell the stories of the people who made it happen.

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