TEN years ago when Brad Donald left Bathurst to further pursue his coaching career, he had no idea he would find himself at the helm of a Women’s Rugby League World Cup hopeful.
But on Thursday afternoon when the Australian women’s team, known as the Jillaroos, begin their bid to defend the World Cup they won four years ago, Donald will be there with them.
He certainly has come a long way since his first foray into coaching as mentor of the Bathurst Panthers under 13s in the Group 10 Junior Rugby League competition.
DONALD’S BATHURST LINK
AFTER moving to Bathurst in 1993, Donald earned a reputation as a hard working back rower while representing both CSU and Panthers.
He then transitioned into coaching, mentoring under 13, under 14, under 18 and first division Panthers teams, while in 2006 he guided Orange CYMS in the Group 10 premier league competition.
In 2007 Donald was lured away from Bathurst after being offered a job as the Canberra Raiders’ SG Ball coach. But he still has fond memories of where it all began for him.
“I’ll never forget where I’m from, starting out as a young coach. I was at the Lebanon [versus Kangaroos] game and an old Bathurst player that I coached in the under 18s in 2001, Anthony Farah – who had also represented Lebanon – he came down and gave me a big hug on the fence,” he said.
“I wouldn’t have seen him for 15 years, so you think wow, it goes all the way back to Bathurst. I have real fond memories of coaching there.
“I still keep in contact with a lot of people from Bathurst … We [his family] certainly feel really connected to the region and it’s nice when people reach out and we get a lot of messages, it’s certainly still a very special place for us.”
PATH TO THE WORLD CUP
IT was November 2016 when Donald held his first training camp as head coach with the Jillaroos.
Since then he has worked hard to form a squad he feels his capable of hoisting the ultimate women’s rugby league trophy – the World Cup.
“From where we were 12 months ago to where we are now, there’s been a lot of work under the bridge. Some of that time has seemed to go slow, some of it has gone really fast,” he said.
“There have been a bunch of milestones we’ve ticked off along the way and one of them was [Sunday] when we had our first ever Jillaroos reunion and the Kangaroos’ reunion was on. We had a combined photo with the Kangaroos and the Jillaroos, so there was myself and Mal Meninga sitting in the middle of the two teams in front of the stand at the SGC. It was very surreal.
“We’ve had lots of moments like that over the last 12 months. I’m very, very grateful and very honoured to be a part of it and be in the position I’m in.”
THE WORLD CUP
THE Jillaroos will begin their World Cup campaign this Thursday against the Cook Islands, but in planning for that fixture, Donald also thought about what lies ahead.
His side will have a short turnaround between games, playing England on Sunday then Canada on Wednesday in Sydney. Donald is hoping his side will then progress to the semi-finals.
“We’ve done everything we can do to prepare the best we can to win the World Cup. We’ve picked a really strong squad of 24,” he said.
“Our players 18-24 are going to play Cook Islands, we’ve got great faith in them. We are resting seven of our one to 13 players for the England game.
“There’s been an awful lot of thought go into it because basically it is a three-day turnaround. We play four games in 10 days, so we’ve had to do an awful lot of work to make sure we are ready physically, but also that we have the right balance in those teams so we get the right result.”
CENTRAL WEST TALENTS
DONALD is not the only Central West link to the Jillaroos, with his squad including Parkes’ Talesha Quinn and Orange native Vanessa Foliaki.
“I didn’t even know that Ness had played her first game in Orange and she’s got ties there. When she was a kid she went to school in Orange and she played her first game of rugby league out that way before she moved to Sydney,” Donald said.
“She’s a terrific ambassador for the sport.
“Talesha Quinn, she’ll potentially be the only person to do it, but she played in the Festival of World Cups for the Australian Defence Force team and through that avenue was picked up into the NSW team and further now onto our squad.
“She’ll play against the Cooks on Thursday, so it’s quite exciting for her and her family out in Parkes.”
THE WOMEN’S GAME OVERALL
WINNING the World Cup will certainly be Donald’s focus over the coming weeks, yet he is aware of what the tournament can do for the sport overall.
He has enjoyed seeing the rise of the women’s sport and hopes its growth will continue into the future.
“One of the things I quite often say is that I signed up to coach a footy team, but really quickly I’ve realised that I’ve become the facilitator of the movement in our sport,” he said.
“They wanted to make sure they elevated the game to the greatest heights and inspire young ladies all over the country to play and force a couple of new competitions and win the World Cup along the way.
“Really the World Cup is just another tick, we are really, really adamant that we need to tick that box because it goes towards inspiring young ladies around the country.
“The fact that the games are going to be on television and live is a great credit to the World Cup. It will open a lot more eyes around the country to see what’s going on and hopefully it will inspire them to take part in the game as well.
“It really has come a long way in 12 months.
“They throw the ball around and you certainly see that from some of the island nations, the way they play. I also think the English will be exciting to watch, as will the Kiwis.
“I think everybody will be excited to watch them play because they play a great brand of footy and I think it’s a bit of old school.”