Dragons coach Jamie Soward has boldly tipped Maddison Weatherall to become the best prop in the NRLW as the 21-year-old revealed how she and partner Max Feagai had learned to juggle parental responsibilities with playing and training.
Soward made the prediction after Weatherall starred in just her second match after a three-year break from the NRLW as St George Illawarra downed Parramatta 38-12 at WIN Stadium last Saturday.
Starting from the bench, Weatherall made it a personal mission to target Jillaroos enforcer Kennedy Cherrington and she turned the game with a jolting tackle that forced a turn-over followed by a charging run that led to Teagan Berry’s first try.
It's on in Wollongong
"I'm so proud of Maddi Weatherall," Soward said. "She'll be the best prop in the world, probably in a year or two, once she fully gets fit and understands how good she is.”
Weatherall has already played in an NRLW grand final after making her debut in 2019 - the same season she captained the Steelers to Tarsha Gale Cup grand final glory and NSW U18s to State of Origin victory.
However, after playing just one NRLW match in 2020, Weatherall dropped off the radar for three years as the 2021 competition was postponed to 2022 and she became pregnant with daughter Lariah.
Coaxed back into playing by Soward, Weatherall is now managing her NRLW commitments alongside motherhood and had 10-month-old Lariah with her when she spoke to NRL.com before Dragons training in Wollongong.
Feagai was just finishing a session of his own with the NRL team and Weatherall was waiting for the Samoa World Cup star to take Lariah home so she could begin training.
“It is pretty cool to both be able to play for the Dragons and have our baby with us,” Weatherall said.
One goes to training and comes back, and then the other goes to training.
“He is in massage now, so we are waiting for him to finish and then I will go to training, and they will go home.
“I love footy, and I always wanted to come back, but this is what I wanted - my baby. She is always on my mind.
“It was hard at the start, but it was cool that Sowie had faith in me, and a lot of people had faith, so that it made it easier. Now that I am here, it is good to be back.”
Having seen Weatherall dominate the junior ranks, Soward has been keen to coach her since taking over the Dragons job, but the Wests Wollongong junior needed convincing she could return while Lariah was young.
"I love having Maddi in the team,” Soward said. “She has worked so hard. She has got a newborn, and Max plays as well, so they are two fulltime athletes and parents as well.
“Anyone who is a parent knows how hard looking after kids is. She is coming here late and some days she brings the little one into video sessions, she is that dedicated to wanting to be the best.
“I am really proud of all our mums who play but I just love the fact that Maddi is back at our club.
"She is a local junior, she went away and had a kid, she wasn’t sure if she was going to play and I have been able to sit down with her and look after her. She has given us everything and she is getting rewarded for it.”
Soward said Weatherall didn’t realise how good she could be but the 2020 Maori All Stars representative was quickly proving to herself that she can still fulfill the potential to play at the highest level.
“I know what Maddi Weatherall can be, she was the best in her age group in under 18s three years ago,” Soward said.
“She is really good. I've always known she was a star since I watched her in the lower grades but sometimes you have got to convince them and coach them and nurture that.
“Maddi is getting that experience now back in the middle, so she is going to be great.”