Pamela Goodridge might be the NRL's games development officer in the Sydney metro region now, but she can still remember a time when women and rugby league did not mix.
Speaking to NRL.com to help celebrate Harvey Norman Women in League Round, Mrs Goodridge explained how her love of rugby league growing up helped her on the path to becoming one of the most important figures in the Illawarra district.
"Rugby league was huge in the Illawarra when I was a child, but girls just weren't allowed to play. It was a no-go zone for us," she recalled.
"I'd go along to training with my brother and my dad, and one coach actually asked 'who's that blonde kid out there?' but dad had to say it was his daughter. Playing in the backward with the boys was the best I could hope for.
"It was very upsetting because I knew that I could play the game, and I was probably equal to, if not better than some of the kids we played against in the street."
Thankfully that stigma is now long gone. In fact, her rugby league story came full circle a few years ago when, after an all-too long wait, she finally got the chance to make her rugby league debut.
"I really had to wait until about six years ago when I was helping out with our local ladies team, I begged my husband to let me play one game," Mrs Goodridge continued.
"I played one game in a competition, and that gave me a buzz. I had my three sons sitting on the sidelines egging me on and giving me all the tips I passed on to them, so that was a good day.
"Unfortunately we got beaten, but I can say I've got that off my chest now."
Having her children on the sidelines to cheer her on was almost a passing of the baton after all her work in their development growing up at the Western Suburbs Red Devils.
It was those formative years at junior level that helped start her on the path to where she is today.
"I was the manager and assistant coach for a few years but I eventually replaced the coach and was given the role for a couple of years," she explained.
"We made a grand final, but got beaten. Once they got to 13, I didn't feel like I could teach them anymore, so that's why I then went on to do my first aid training so I could still be involved at club level. I didn't have the skills at the time to coach them at an advanced stage."
Growing the women's game
From there, she immersed herself in rugby league, gaining qualifications in coaching, refereeing, first aid and managing.
The result? A role as head trainer with the Jillaroos and the NSW Women's squad.
"I kept on giving all I could outside of being a school teacher to eventually try to secure a full-time role with the NRL," she said.
"It was a huge shock to get the position and then to have six years as the head trainer of the Jillaroos and four years with the NSW team was incredible.
"Just to see the ways the girls have been treated over those years has just excelled to the point now where their accommodation is first class, they're treated as first-class athletes, we get to mingle with the men's team and they respect the way the girls play the game.
"I think the overall attitude towards the women's game has grown in leaps and bounds. The public's perception of females not only playing the game, but also what we do outside of the game itself is great."
In her current role as games development officer, Mrs Goodridge has seen girls afforded the opportunities she never had growing up, and she hopes to see that go to even greater heights in the years to come.
"In my role as the game's development officer I tend to see a little bit more passion about the girls being involved in our programs," she said.
"In the September holidays I'll be conducting an all-girls holiday clinic for those girls registered in junior clubs. I've sent out about 1,200 invitations to girls from Penrith, Manly, Cronulla and all the way out to Canberra and the Illawarra.
"I've secured our elite NSW coaches in Jamie Feeney and Ben Cross to come over, as well as Ruan Sims and some of the NSW girls and Jillaroos to help. I'm very passionate about getting the girls involved in the tackle side of rugby league."
With clinics and school visits helping grow the game in the Illawarra region, Goodridge said she would love to see local women's competitions expanded.
As a result, pathways programs could be created to ensure the area's best talent was sent to Sydney where it could be nurtured with the goal of turning promising players into international stars of the future.
And while she'd ultimately love to find the next Ruan Sims or Sam Bremner, her number one goal is far more precious.
"My overarching goal is to put a rugby league ball into a child's hand that has never touched a footy before."
This article first featured on NRL.com