31 Oct 2022
Albert changing attitudes towards women's rugby league in PNG
Orchids skipper was not allowed to play her sport until she left home
By Milly McEvoy
Papua New Guinea captain Elsie Albert is living proof of the power of rugby league and is ready to show the world again as the Orchids prepare for their second World Cup.
The 26-year-old was only able to take up her country’s national sport when she moved away from home to study tropical agriculture at university, with her family holding strict views on the roles of women in society.
Since then, she has played in this year’s NRLW Grand Final after skippering Papua New Guinea to a first full international victory against England in 2019.
“I couldn’t play when I was living with my family back home because of the culture that we grew up in,” the St George Illawarra Dragons prop explained.
“So I started playing in 2018 when I left my parents and started going to university because I was living on my own.
“I come from Papua New Guinea, I played in Papua New Guinea and then I got selected to play in Australia and to come from that type of environment and then to play in Australia, it sent a message back home that a woman can do anything.
“I think we have moved past that mindset of women not being able to play rugby, we’ve improved from that standing where people saw women as second to men and that we were supposed to be staying at home.
“After 2019, given we beat England in that year, we got a lot of support from not only from female folks but male folks, we got a lot of support and that means a lot for us
“We want to be competitive in this World Cup and I think if we do that, we could win over the support back home. Our aim coming into this World Cup is just to improve and be better as individuals.”
Papua New Guinea lost all three of their pool matches at the 2017 World Cup and will again face Canada in their opening group game tomorrow, hoping to avenge the 22-8 loss that sent the Ravens to the semi-finals.
Albert and her side will then take on debutants Brazil on 5 November in Hull before coming up against hosts England four days later.
Papua New Guinea head coach Ben Jeffries is relishing a return to Headingley for the fixtures against Canada and England having spent ten years playing for Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and Bradford Bulls.
But of greater concern is what playing in the World Cup will mean for his players.
"The moment is finally here"
Go behind the scenes of the women's RLWC2021 launch event and hear from some of the stars#RLWC2021 pic.twitter.com/NEZi2T1fEx
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) October 31, 2022
He said: “A big thing I’d like these women to walk away with is they have changed the face of PNG rugby league and for women in rugby league after this tournament.
“There is adversity when it comes to women playing rugby league in Papua New Guinea but hopefully by the end of this tournament, they will be proud of their female players and embrace them.
“I understand some of these girls’ stories and we wouldn’t wish that upon any individual, some of the stories they have got, but when they get on the field, it is a miracle.
“It is really rewarding when they put on that jersey and they love playing for their country with it being the national sport, it is only going to get bigger and better for them.”
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets