Despite living in the Hills, going to school in Penrith and following the Canterbury Bulldogs in the NRL, Kayla Henderson has her sights firmly set on playing with the Parramatta Eels in the NRLW.
The Year 11 student at Penola Catholic College in Emu Plains has been playing rugby league for four years, taking it up after watching her brothers and sister play the sport growing up.
Since then, the talented 16-year-old has been climbing the ranks and currently plays for the Eels in the Lisa Fiaola Cup.
Speaking with the Weekender, Kayla explained how she went from playing soccer to becoming one of the rising stars in women’s rugby league.
“My brothers played footy all their life and I grew up watching them. I always played soccer and never wanted to play rugby league until my sister played her first year,” she said.
“After watching her, I wanted to give it a crack, so I told Dad and he signed me up to play with Emu Plains and I haven’t looked back since.”
Kayla, who’s currently a member of the All Saints Toongabbie Tigers in the Parramatta District, said her father has been quite influential in the development stages of her career.
“Dad is very knowledgeable about footy and has been coaching for a while,” she said.
“Dad said, ‘if you’re going to play, ask to play fullback’ and that’s where I started playing. I love it.”
With Dragons NRL star Emma Tonegato as her idol, Kayla is fast becoming one of the top fullbacks in her field, so much so that she was recently selected in the Australian Schoolgirls Wanderers Rugby League team, which will tour the UK and France this December.
Kayla said she was “surprised” to hear she would be going on her first international tour for rugby league.
“After playing for the NSW CCC team, they sent a letter to the school asking me if I wanted to go on tour,” she said.
“I’m feeling excited… I’ve never been there before.
“I’m looking forward to going overseas and seeing all the cool places as well as training and playing with the team.”
Before she heads abroad, Kayla will look to make Parramatta’s Tarsha Gale Cup team for the first time before setting her sights on the NRLW competition in a few years.
Kayla said her and her supportive father will be putting in plenty of hard yards in the meantime to get her ready.
“Most nights, when I don’t have actual training, Dad and I will head down to the fields and work on my catching skills as well as my stepping and explosiveness,” she said.
“I’ll be looking to play Tarsha Gale for two years then in the Harvey Norman Women’s comp before hopefully heading to the NRLW competition.”
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for a decade.