Central West rugby league star Vanessa Foliaki has found herself at the centre of a social media storm after playing for the winning NSW side in the inaugural women’s State of Origin match.
The NRL on Saturday hit back at critics of a Facebook post featuring a photo of Ms Foliaki and her partner Karina Brown kissing after the end of the game on Friday night.
The image captured an embrace between the Orange-product and her Queenslander girlfriend in the middle of the pitch.
The couple, who have been together since 2014, are usually teammates for the national league squad, the Jillaroos, but faced off against each other for a competitive match on rival teams in the Origin match.
The photo was shared by NRL and Women's Rugby League on Facebook with the caption "#OurWay", but generated a mixed response.
Replying to one critic on Facebook, the NRL wrote: “Welcome to 2018 ... can't wait for you to join us!”
The NRL also hit back against comments suggesting the NRL was “sexualising” the game by sharing the photo.
“If we can post a [photo] of Cooper Cronk and his wife Tara kissing, then we can share a photo of Karina Brown and Ness Foliaki sharing a moment too,” the NRL wrote.
The Jillaroos make it feel like home. The coaching staff are supportive. We're feeling all the love.Vanessa Foliaki
Meanwhile, others expressed surprise at the cross-border relationship, commenting on the photo: "how can someone kiss a Queenslander?"
Describing their relationship to NRL earlier this month, Ms Brown and Ms Foliaki said they had been openly competitive with each other in the lead-up to the Origin match, at times not even talking with each other so they can focus on the sport.
Speaking to nrl.com, Ms Foliaki described how being part of the national rugby league set up had helped the pair’s relationship.
“Everyone wants us to get married,” she said.
"Being a part of the Jillaroos and how open everyone was to our relationship helped a lot.
“I think it's more accepted now and the Jillaroos make it feel like home. The coaching staff are supportive. We're feeling all the love.”
As the blues took home the match on Friday, winning 16-10, the game saw more than one million viewers tune in across Australia to watch the game.
Ms Foliaki played rugby league with Orange Hawks and the Group 10 league tag sides, as well as playing rugby union for Orange Emus and a host of top-flight representative sides.