Our State of Origin Powerhouses
25-year-old, Vanessa Foliaki has been carving up the women’s Rugby League world and makes no apologies for it.
“I started footy at the age of six back in New Zealand. I grew up playing Rugby Union and made the switch to Rugby League full time in 2017. It was always a game that I loved - my Dad played Rugby growing up and I was inspired by him. He taught me all the skills I needed to play rugby, to kick, pass and tackle.”
Vanessa played junior football for the Orange Hawks, before debuting for the Canley Vale Dragons in 2014. One year later, Vanessa debuted for the Harvey Norman Jillaroos at the 2015 Auckland Nines, and it doesn’t stop there.
“New Zealand will always be my home as that’s where I was born and raised, though, Orange is my home away from home. I found my home here eight years ago and I’m so proud to represent my State, when people ask me where my home is in Australia, I say I’m an Orange girl.”
Vanessa has represented New South Wales since 2014, including being part of the first New South Wales team to win the Interstate Challenge in 2016.
This year, she has done it again!
“My footy journey so far has been amazing; I was lucky enough to come onto the scene in 2014 playing for NSW and the Jillaroos, some pretty special memories were created.”
Vanessa has represented NSW six times and played in a World Cup, “It was something that I always dreamed of doing.”
Talking Origin, Vanessa said, “Every year I learn to love this jersey even more. My favourite football memory is winning State of Origin for the first time in 17 years! History is only ever created once and I’m very lucky to be a part of the first ever team to beat QLD!”
“Football is more than a game to me; it’s inspiring the next generation of girls and gives them something to strive for when they grow up. Little girls now have us as role models and people to look up to - which is very cool. I often forget the role I play with inspiring the next generation but it’s a role that I welcome with open arms. I never had the opportunities as some of the kids have now and I just think how lucky they are!”
Known for her trademark headgear look, letting her ponytail fly, Vanessa continued, “Little girls want to wear headgear like me - the amount of messages we get from girls who look up to us is very encouraging. That’s why I play football.”
“Of course, the road hasn’t been easy due to some pretty bad injuries, but I’ve worked really hard to get back to where I was. I never take anything for granted and I’m very grateful to be given the opportunity to play Rugby League at the highest level.”
Vanessa is now going into her second National Rugby League Women’s season with the Sydney Roosters, in doing that she will be moving to Sydney for the next eight weeks. “I’m loving every moment of this lifestyle.”
“If I’m lucky enough to get selected for representative honours after the season - I will play and then take a much-needed break from footy. It’s been a pretty hectic calendar for us so it’s important that I step away from footy and take a well needed break.”
A lot was said when our very own Jack Wighton was called onto the big stage, though, rest assured he had always had the full support of his hometown.
A Bloomfield Junior in his younger years here in Orange, he was then successful through the Canberra Raiders junior system.
Having debuted in 2012, Jack has since played over 100 NRL games for the Canberra Raiders, he has also represented the Indigenous All Stars, NSW Country team and the Prime Minister’s XIII.
His most recent achievement on the field was being called up to play in the NSW State of Origin side.
“When I was named in the team I was blown away, its been a massive 12 months, just last year I was getting stood down for the wrong things, so to be put in the NSW team a year later, it was amazing. My family were all wrapped, they know how hard I’ve worked and everything I do to try and be my best so they were happy for me.”
“I think it’s every blokes dream who plays footy to play on that arena, it was definitely a dream of mine.”
“Coming into game three, it really hit me about two days out from the game, just how big that arena was and how much was on the line. I felt a little bit more pressure considering I threw that pass in game one, to give QLD the try.. but I was feeling confident in the boys, so that helped.
“The buzz you get off the home crowd was amazing, as soon as you ran out you could feel the energy, the whole game I just thrived off it.”
The last minute try was the talk of the game and it wasn’t just the audience that was in shock, happy shocked that is. “I was in a little bit of disbelief after that try in the last minute, I thought it was a dream, I remember I couldn’t get my head around it at the time, it was unreal! The way we won just made it even better.”
During the celebrations after the game, Jack spotted something that looked all too familiar, “I saw a banner with my face on it in amongst the blatchy blues, that was pretty amazing, it was the Bloomfield Club from Orange, I went and said G’day to them, it was unreal, it’s always good to see support from your hometown, it really means a lot.”
“Knowing I’m inspiring our younger generation is a great feeling, I really cant wait to get back to Orange and get in amongst the crowd and local footy and what not, I remember when I was younger and the NRL would come to Orange that’s what it’s all about, it shows them if you try hard enough, you’ll get where you want.”
“As a kid my step Dad definitely had the most influence on my footy, he got me to all of my games and really kept me hungry, when I thought I wasn’t good enough he talked me through it and reminded me that I was good enough.”
“You always get told not many people make it in NRL, so to make my debut was a massive milestone for me, then to play in the Indigenous All-Stars, and to play alongside Jonathon Thurston and Greg Inglis, that’s right up there. But this Origin win, it’s really right at the top, it’s a dream come true.
To all of our younger generation looking to take on the NRL lifestyle, Jack has some wise words for you, “It sounds cliché, but never give up, if you put your mind to it you can achieve it, always back yourself and don’t look backwards, because you’re not going that way.”
Congratulations Jack, you’ll always have the support of the Orange community behind you.