She’s faced more than her fair share of challenges in the last 12 months, but that hasn’t stopped Trangie’s Jess Skinner from driving the growth of women’s rugby league across western NSW.
Jess coaches and volunteers her time six days a week, and doesn’t bat an eyelid at driving 1000 kilometres in a week to train girls in Menindee or Bourke.
That hard work was recognised on Saturday when NRL chairman Peter Beattie and Jillaroos player Rikeya Horne flew to Dubbo to present Jess with the NRL Women in League Achievement Award.
“The game would fail without people like Jessica Skinner,” Beattie said.
“They are very special people, fantastic for the community and they build a community and what she’s doing to encourage young women to play rugby league is really important.
“I’m delighted that she has won this national award.”
It was a tearful Jess that accepted the award in front of her friends and family, and her journey hasn’t been without heartache.
Husband Ryan Selway died in November 2017 at just 29, leaving behind Jess and their children Tawhiao and Naia.
But Ryan was the one who pushed Jess to get into coaching five years ago, with his memory keeping Jess going “every day, every week”.
She has gone on to coach Western Rams league tag and tackle sides, and pioneered the inaugural League Tag Academy Program, developing female youth across remote and rural communities in the Barwon Darling, Outback and Castlereagh Leagues.
“There’s not a lot of women that can say that they’re in this sport and have, the backbone to them is a male and just as passionate about the sport,” she said.
“I particularly owe that to the Western Rams, because he played a role in that with me and it’s led to all of this.
“I think, in a way, he is always with me. He’d be super proud of this today, it would have just been great to have him here to see it as well. That it all paid off.”
Jess was incredibly humble in accepting her award, insisting it also acknowledged “all the volunteers” across western NSW for “how much they do”.
But there’s no doubt the school teacher’s sheer dedication – she’s driven 12,000 kilometres in 2018 alone – sets her apart.
“I have players out in Menindee, there’s players out in Bourke and then on the other end there’s players at Bathurst … at Orange so it’s just everywhere far and in between but that’s just what you’ve got to do Someone has got to do it,” Jess said.
“There’s a lot of hard work, a lot of late nights … it is hard but it’s so much more rewarding. All the positives outweigh the negatives.”
She said she felt lucky to be along for the ride as the women’s game grows, with the Harvey Norman NSW Women's Premiership inspiring today’s juniors.
“I’m hugely passionate about the sport, particularly with women taking off so much … it’s just shooting and I’m just really lucky that I’m on this ride at the moment,” Jess said.
“The pathways are there, they’re very clear now and hopefully for our region we can see more of our girls at the top end.”
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