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Women padding up to play American football

ONCE a passing curiosity in Australia, the national US sport of gridiron has never been more popular Down Under — and now women are jumping on board.

Jarryd Hayne’s foray with the San Francisco 49ers last year sparked international interest in the sport and this year

two of league’s best players, Jason Taumalolo and Valentine Holmes, are trying to follow in his footsteps and are trialling for a number of interested clubs.

(Gridiron is proving popular with women too. Picture: Peter Clark)

Not content to let the men have all the fun, women are also signing up to play.

“There’s so many facets of the game,” 24-year-old Meghan Stokie, of Woy Woy, said.

“I grew up playing netball and touch football, rugby union was big in my family with my brother and father.

“I always grew up involved in team sports … but in NFL there are so many specific roles.”

(The girls run some plays at Gosford Picture: Peter Clark)

By day Ms Stokie is a mild-mannered clerk but over the past 12 weekends she has strapped on the shoulder pads and cracked helmets with her Northwestern Phoenix teammates.

Despite a valiant effort, in which the running back and wide receiver scored a touchdown, the Phoenix went down on Saturday to the undefeated UNSW Raiders in the Opal Bowl — the grand final of the Sydney competition.

The gridiron convert said she would definitely play again next year and hoped down the track the sport would garner enough interest to form a Central Coast women’s team.

(Jarryd Hayne in action. Photo: Getty Images)

“The reason I love this sport and find it addictive is the family culture around the clubs, the friendships and bonds you make, as well as the challenge both physical and mental in learning rules, positions, footwork, plays and routes,” Ms Stokie said.

“It’s hard work but in an enjoyable sense which makes it even more rewarding when you execute plays or achieve a desired outcome as a team unit.”

As for the helmets and all the padding Ms Stokie said it “almost adds another element to the game” and made players hit all that much harder because of a misperception they could not get hurt.

“It’s also a sport that no matter what your background, your age, your natural abilities – there’s a (position) designed for everyone,” she said.

(Don’t let the hair fool you … these girls take their gridiron as serious as the blokes. Picture: Peter Clark)

Gridiron NSW director Stacey Speer said the reason women were flocking to the unlikely sport of American football was because it was more than just athletic skills.

She said it was a mindset that helped empower women in all areas of their lives.

“It’s not just training and games, it’s a philosophy,” she said.

“Every time the girls take the field they are literally laying their lives in the hands of the other girls, allowing a mateship to be developed­.

“Skills developed within other sports can support gridiron, framing it as a dynamic and flexible sport where no prior experience is needed.

“There is a place for everyone due to the unique dynamics of the team.”

(Gridiron NSW’s Stacey Speer.)

Speer said there were about 1000 registered gridiron players in NSW, 200 of whom were women.

Speer described the sport as “the closest thing to war” where no amount of natural talent could outweigh attitude. “It is a case of battle chest,” she said.

NSW is not alone when it comes to the rising popularity of gridiron with the first ever women’s “world cup” to be held next year where Australian girls “who make the cut” will be up against the likes of the US, Canada, England, Asia and several European countries.

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