“I’m Kelly Friend, and I am a woman in league”
It’s a sentence Kelly Friend, the wife of Gold Coast Titans juggernaut and foundation player Nathan Friend never initially thought she would ever be in a position say.
“Nathan was a brick layer when I met him, when we first got together so Rugby League wasn’t a big thing I guess.”
“To me then it was just a sport, it was just that they had fun on the weekend, it wasn’t serious then and then all of a sudden it was serious.”
The pair first met as thirteen year olds on the Darling Downs, but it wasn’t until Kelly had turned eighteen that Nathan finally plucked up enough courage to pick up the phone and ask her out.
There was an instant connection and it’s fair to say the Friends became more than that very quickly!
At the same time, Nathans efforts on and off the field had been noticed and he was about to pack his brickies trowel away, for a while at least and try his luck in the NRL. Prior to packing his bag for pre-season training, the Friends had some big decisions to make.
“I met Kelly earlier on and you know I was nineteen and doing a lot of travel at the time and Kelly was a professional swimmer at the time and we both kind of had our own career paths and come to a fork in the road where it was either take her swimming career or take mine and we obviously decided to take mine and Kelly had to step down from what she was doing.”
It’s a selfless decision that has stuck with Nathan throughout his career, an act that he says motivates him to perform to the best of his ability each time he runs out for the Titans.
“Obviously at the end of the day I feel for her and obviously not reaching her goals and what she had strived for, for twelve years or so.”
“It obviously gives me extra motivation to put in on weekends and to succeed in life and on the football field”
After a stint with the Brisbane Broncos, Nathan joined the Melbourne Storm before accepting an offer to join the fledgling Gold Coast franchise ahead of the 2007 season.
While Nathan was recovering from shoulder surgery as the Titans embarked on their first pre-season campaign, he wasted little time in claiming the number nine jersey as his own, holding off a determined effort from Fellow foundation player Clint Amos and a little later Matt Hilder.
For Kelly, the move to the Titans felt a lot like coming home to family and they willingly immersed themselves into life on the Gold Coast.
“In the beginning it was our family and we very much made it our family and I think like those first five years the boys played really well and in the fourth year they made the semi’s and you could, there was a feel about the place that we all belonged together and we all had fun and yeah we just had a really good bunch of people.”
Nine years on and Kelly is now a mother of two very keen rugby league players, and like so many mums around the country spends her weekends doing her bit to ensure Axel and Oliver have as much fun playing as their dad does.
“Being a woman in league um, It’s not that hard, there are times when the spotlight might be on us instead of the boys but now I’m a mother and I get to see what it’s like for my kids to be so excited about going to league every weekend and help in the canteen, It’s definitely harder to watch your child than your husband that’s for sure.”
For Nathan watching Kelly do her thing at junior rugby league on the weekend is a little like taking a trip back to his own childhood.
“Women in league, I remember growing up and playing league and mum was always behind the scenes you know washing the jerseys doing the tuckshop and making sure the kids got oranges at half time and I guess all those little things mothers do at home, they just do their thing in the background and do it really well.”
“Most of my junior years my team used to get flogged each week and you know all of our mothers used to sit on the sidelines or in the grandstand and they would all sit together and they would be the loudest cheerers.”
Fridays Coast Titans 2016 Women in League function is officially a sell-out, a sure sign that the invaluable contribution made to rugby league at all levels by thousands of women around the country is truly appreciated.