Amelia Kuk’s latest achievement is playing for the Brisbane Broncos and winning the premiership in 2018.
That’s the top of a massive list of achievements for the 23 year-old rugby league star, who has represented Queensland in State of Origin and in 2017, played for the Jillaroos, Australia’s world champion rugby league team.
Amelia has also played in the Women’s Rugby League World Cup for the PNG Orchids, a nod to her childhood spent in Papua New Guinea.
Power Meri, is a new documentary that follows Papua New Guinea’s first national women’s rugby league team on their journey to the 2017 World Cup. Power Meri also sadly reveals just how rampant online abuse is in the female sporting world, unsurprising given the Tayla Harris photo incident.
Faced with a lack of funding and a pre-existing national prejudice against women playing rugby league, the PNG Orchids are achieving sporting success while trying to promote positive change in a country where violence against women is rife.
“These women are slowly breaking barriers and using rugby league as a vehicle to drive change,” Amelia told Women’s Agenda.
“They have each impacted their families and communities in such a positive way and have earned so much respect from the country.”
Amelia tells Women’s Agenda about what she values most about rugby league, how she deals with online trolls and why having a national women’s team in Papua New Guinea is changing the lives of women all over the country.
Can you tell us a little about what is was like growing up in Papua New Guinea? Was rugby league always a big part of your life in the early years?
Growing up in Papua New Guinea was some of the best years of my life. I learned about my culture from the day I was born and rugby league was a big part of that. I grew up watching the State of Origin and it was so big that we would have a half day at school on origin day. The whole school would split into two big teams of either QLD or NSW and we would play against each other in different sporting activities before going home to get ready for the big game night with our families. I remember painting my face as well. That’s how I grew up to love rugby league.
The extraordinary rise of women’s rugby league in Papua New Guinea in recent years has upended many sporting and social norms in the country. Does having such a successful national female team like the PNG Orchids have an impact on the everyday prejudice women often experience?
The PNG Orchids have definitely made a big impact on the country as a whole. To have the first ever women’s national team is amazing. Every Orchids player has a unique story of how they got to where they are and how rugby league has changed their lives. They have each impacted their families and communities in such a positive way and have earned so much respect from the country. These women are slowly breaking barriers and using rugby league as a vehicle to drive change for women in Papua New Guinea.
The new documentary Power Meri reveals how rampant abuse is in the female sporting world. Have you notice the film having a positive impact in Papua New Guinea and do you think this message can spread to Australia?
The Power Meri film only covers a little bit of abuse that women go through in sport every day. Since it came out, the film has been a big eye opener for everyone around PNG as well as Australia. The film shows the reality of what we go through back home. Everyone that has seen the documentary is very moved by it. I have seen and heard positive feedback about how much of an impact the team and film has had in both PNG and Australia.
You are now based in Brisbane and play for the 2018 premiership winning team the Brisbane Broncos. Can you tell us about how you came to play rugby league in Australia?
I initially come from a background of rugby union. I started playing when I was 17 and played both 7’s and 15’s. In 2016 I decided to make the switch over to rugby league and that’s when I fell in love with the game. I’ve been very blessed to have put on a few rep jerseys in my time and my latest achievement was playing for the Broncos and winning the Premiership. The thing I value most about rugby league is the culture, friendship and contact side. Women playing rugby league shows everyone that we are just as capable of playing a good standard of footy, are able to put some big hits on and really showcase women’s athleticism and talent.
I love the culture that rugby league has and the friends that I have made through the sport not only have my back on the field but off the field as well. The game continues to teach me incredible life lessons and I am grateful to be a part of this sporting world.
In light of the recent Tayla Harris photo incident and the extensive online abuse she received, it is clear that online trolls try to put women in their place, both in the sporting world and outside of it. Have you had any personal experiences of online harassment, and how do you deal with it?
I have been a victim of online harassment by trolls. A lot of it started to come through when I was playing for the Jillaroos having a PNG background. It kept going when I went back to PNG and played for the Orchids in the World Cup. For me, the only way to deal with things like that is to let my game do the talking. I don’t read comments on my social media. I put things up on social media to show the little girls who are looking up to me that they should keep chasing their dreams.
I’ve developed some resilience over the years and have learnt not to give attention to what other people are saying about me. What I say to myself is more important. I haven’t wasted any time getting worked up over someone else’s opinion about my game or image. Most of the time they just want a reaction out of you so it’s best to just ignore these things and keep living your life.
How important is it for men to actively support female sport?
It is very important for men to get behind female sport. We support them through everything that they do, and I think it’s equally fair that they do the same for us. When a man supports a woman, she often can go above and beyond. I think that applies to anything in life.
When men get behind us and support us, you will begin to see female sport growing stronger. With the right kind of support, women will go on to break records and will set high standards for future generations.
For Power Meri session times go to https://au.demand.film/power-meri/ Note: all tickets must be pre-purchased online before the screening.