Encircled and rapt with league
Story by: WAYNE MARTIN - Nelson Mail - Photo by: MARION VAN DIJK
Ronan Keating never got a look in.
Perhaps if he'd been wearing those famous cherry-and-white hoops ...
But, where besotted young Wigan schoolgirls were adorning their bedroom walls with Boyzone posters all those years ago, one particular lass was humming an entirely different tune.
Not for Terri Davey the fawning reverence to Irish boy bands. Instead, she paid homage to some of rugby league's most famous names and at one of the world's most celebrated league shrines, Wigan's Central Park. The club has since moved to its new premises, the DW Stadium.
"Dean Bell, Ellery Hanley, Andy Gregory, Martin Offiah – they were all massive stars when I was a kid," says 26-year-old Wigan-born Davey, now a week into her new role as the Tasman Rugby League's development officer.
"They were the posters on the bedroom wall. Pretty much the guys through the Wembley era, the Challenge Cup era when [Wigan] were winning it every year, those guys that were playing then, those were the people I looked up to."
For the record, Wigan won the latest of their record 18 Challenge Cup titles with a 28-18 win over the Leeds Rhinos in last year's final at Wembley Stadium, Wigan having also won 19 League championships, including two Super League Grand Final victories.
And although she admits she wasn't fully aware of his nationality at the time, Davey's favourite Wigan player back then was actually a Samoan-born Kiwi: former All Blacks winger Vai'aga Tuigamala.
"Tuigamala was my favourite at the time, definitely. He was just a big name ... all the hype surrounding him ... he was a machine on the wing."
So what was it that turned a young Wigan schoolgirl into a league tragic?
"I was surrounded by it. It was always on television. My dad, my granddad, they've all played rugby league through school, at club level [and] my dad [Terry] played international level schoolboys. I've heard stories from when he was a lad.
"When we'd go off shopping, rather than go shopping with my mum, I'd go to the field at the side of the supermarket and watch rugby [league] there as well. I was always surrounded by it; it was always there; it was something I always enjoyed with my family."
She says that growing up in Wigan, female sporting options were rather thin on the ground, with dance, Brownies or Girl Guides among the more usual girls' pursuits at the time. But the Wigan Warriors' continuing success and overwhelming presence within the community permeated most facets of an impressionable young Davey's life. And despite the common perception that league was, and remains, solely the domain of tough young working class males, a young Wigan schoolgirl quickly became absorbed by the game.
"I used to pester [my parents]. I wanted to be a rugby [league] player. My mum really supported me in it [saying]: `let's do this then. If it's something you want to do, let's go and give it a try'. I think they expected it'd be something I'd go and try and I'd probably get sick of, so rather than keep me pestering, they let me have a go.
"Twenty years later, I'm still going. It's fantastic because if I didn't have that support then, the career that I've got now – definitely not. It's led from one thing to another, it's just snowballed."
N owadays, Davey's maintaining her dream lifestyle. She's been playing the game since she was seven, competing with and against boys until she was 12 and the mandatory switch to single-sex competitions.
It meant two years just training with the boys until finally linking up with the Littleborough Ladies team in Rochdale, who she's played for ever since. Her last game was in the women's national cup final against the Castleford Panthers on Easter Sunday, which Littleborough lost.
"With the boys I played second row and with the girls I moved to standoff. I prefer standoff. I like leading the team, I like taking the team forward. I captained the ladies for the past six or seven years."
Being a female in a man's world has never concerned her, despite the occasional and inevitable negativity expressed by some disgruntled males.
"It's never been an issue, I've never had a problem with it. Obviously, you get some of the blokes who just object to it straight out. It didn't bother me; it's not something that I've looked back and had an issue with.
"Obviously I was aware that people didn't like it, but that's up to them, if they don't like it, that's fine. I'm not going to try and push myself on that person [by saying] yes, we should be doing this. I just carry on."
She says that, in her early playing days, most of the opposition weren't even aware she was a girl.
"I used to wear a head guard and they didn't even notice a girl was on the pitch until I came into the changing rooms afterwards," she laughs.
She was coaching by the time she was 16, heading down to her local Hindley club to assist and observe one of the local coaches "who mentored me through coaching a couple of years with the boys".
But other than playing in the women's league, Davey always knew that to make a career in the game, she would have to adjust her perspective.
"With [me] being a girl in rugby league, when all the lads were doing their player profiles and they were saying, `I want to be a rugby league player', I had in my mind from an early stage that I've got to find another way, because I'm never going to be a player at Wigan Warriors."
Instead, she became the Wigan Warriors' community rugby league coach – an appointment she describes as "a dream come true".
She moved to a similar role as community development officer with the Rochdale Hornets two years later, the big difference being that, this time, she was in charge.
"I ran the department. It was only me employed, but I had to find a volunteer base to set up."
T his isn't her first experience of New Zealand. In 2001, she was part of the England under-18 women's touch team at the inaugural World Cup. Based in Auckland, she got to see a fair portion of the North Island.
"We toured the North Island and something about the place really struck me. I enjoyed being in New Zealand, I enjoyed meeting people in New Zealand and from then on, it's always been an ambition of mine to work here.
"I like the atmosphere and the environment. I was ready for a change, another step up in the right direction and I Googled it – rugby league, jobs in New Zealand, `Let's see what's up there', and this [Tasman] job pops up and I applied."
Davey's excited about her new appointment, initially a 12-month deal. And with the experience and knowledge she's already accumulated, and with the support of the New Zealand Rugby League's South Island general manager Steve Martin, she's confident of spreading the league gospel.
She's already been encouraged by what she's seen in the region.
"[I've seen that] it's on the up, that over the past two years, lots of good things have been done with the sport. The quality, not just on the pitch, but off the pitch, is improving. People are getting structures in place.
"During that 12 months, [the TRL are] looking for me to get into primary schools, introduce or re-introduce rugby league to children and get out there and increase participation. I'm looking at running six-week competitions with schools [and] six-week coaching blocks before that so the children are ready to have a go.
"Once we've done that and the children have experienced rugby league, they can make the choice themselves about whether thay want to actually take it further and I'll be there to provide a vehicle for them to do that."