The Newcastle Knights have recruited a Hunter Valley mine worker as they prepare for their debut in the delayed 2021 NRLW competition.
Phoebe Desmond, 30, has been in the mining industry for ten years and currently works at the Bulga Open Cut mine near Singleton operating haul trucks and drill rigs.
"I'm excited about the opportunity, that's for sure," Desmond said about the prospect of joining the Knights' NRLW side.
"Being able to show the other girls out there that we can do both worlds. We can have a mining career and we can have a football career, and put them both together."
Desmond joins an esteemed group of former Newcastle Knights players, including Billy Peden, Steve Simpson, Adam Muir, Tony Butterfield and Josh King, who have all previously worked in mining.
"During my school days, Steve Simpson's wife was one of our PE teachers," Desmond said.
"He would often encourage us at footy gala days and give us a couple of wise words of wisdom.
"And knowing that Josh King was a Singleton local working here at Bulga Coal, he worked hard and set a platform for us, so it would be really good to be on par with him too."
Desmond has had a longstanding involvement in grassroots rugby league in the Hunter Valley, having played five seasons in the Sydney Metropolitan Competition for the Maitland Pickers, the Hunter Stars and North Newcastle as well as playing for the Newcastle Maitland Knights in the NSW Country Rugby League competition.
But Desmond said she considered her greatest achievement had been establishing the first women's rugby league team in Singleton, having helped to secure sponsors and recruit players.
This led to opportunities to mentor emerging talent as both a player and, after spells on the sidelines through injury, as a coach.
Now Desmond will join three women she once coached in grassroots Hunter Valley teams after they were also signed by the Knights.
"I never thought the day would come that I would be able to run alongside the girls that I coached in the under 12s and under 14s," she said.
"It feels fantastic, a real achievement knowing that I helped them out along the way and puts me in a really happy spot."
The mining industry will also have a more direct involvement with the Knights' NRLW side, with the NSW Minerals Council announcing it will be a foundation partner and major sponsor of the team in 2022.
NSW Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee said it was an exciting time for the Hunter region and for women's sport in NSW.
"This is a special moment for women's sport and we're excited to be part of it," Mr Galilee said.
"Young women have performed so well in junior pathways teams in the region for many years but in the past they had to go to Sydney to play elite sport. Now they can go to that next level with the Newcastle Knights in the NRLW."
Blaise Walters, the drill and blast superintendent at Bulga, has worked with Desmond to agree on flexible working arrangements so she can keep working and play elite footy.
"It is very exciting that we've got one of our own with a contract at the Newcastle Knights. We're all really into the footy here and it's a great thing for her and for us, which is why we want to support her as much as we can," Mr Walters said.
As NSW continues to emerge from extended COVID restrictions, Desmond is looking ahead to the upcoming footy season and hopes her leadership and experience will help the Knights make an immediate impact on the NRLW.
"We're going to be playing against some high profile players and the competition is going to be really strong," she said.
"They don't need to know who we are now, but they definitely will know who we are after we've played."
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