Wairoa-born rugby league player Madison Bartlett is gearing up for more footy this year, as she was named in the Kiwi Ferns squad that will journey to the UK for the Women’s Rugby League World Cup next month.
The Ngāti Porou winger has had quite the 2022 year already. She made the grand final with the St George Illawarra Dragons, though the team was unsuccessful in claiming the title, in the postponed 2021 NRLW season, then shifted to play five games for the Gold Coast Titans in the 2022 season.
Three years on from her 2019 debut in the sport, with Covid disruptions and injuries sustained in the last couple, Bartlett says she felt, at times, like giving up striving for the Kiwi Ferns jersey.
“I think, being given the black jersey again earlier on in the year just showed why it was all worth it. That feeling to put the jersey on again was really special.
“[But] there’s definitely been some tough times throughout the past couple of years.”
Journeying to the Dragons across the ditch was a big risk for Bartlett, she says, as she was already part of the Warriors team. But with Covid stopping the Warriors from venturing over to play, Bartlett did what she had to do.
“I felt like that was my breakout season so it was either ‘do I sign a contract and not be able to pay the mortgage’ or ‘am I going to give up a lifelong dream and stay back in New Zealand.’”
Her World Cup prep is continuing and, like many of her teammates, keeping at peak physical condition for so long, after playing two NRLW seasons in one year, has been hard in itself too.
“We’re not used to playing at that level for so long or expected to be at such peak levels for the whole year, so adjusting the mind set to that has been a little bit hard.
“But once we get to the world cup it’s going to be exciting so I think that will just take over everything.”
She’s also drawn inspiration from her rugby union counterparts, the Black Ferns, as they made history having sold out Eden Park in the Rugby World Cup opener a couple of weeks ago and performed one of the most incredible haka ever seen.
“You could feel the mana and pride in the jersey that they were wearing.
“I just love watching female sport the way that it’s growing. To have a sold-out stadium – how wicked is that? They defy all odds and having a sold-out stadium proves that people do want to watch female sports.”
As for her team’s world cup aspirations, Bartlett says it will come down to who wants it more.
“I’m confident to say that, yes, we can go all the way.
“I’m going to say ‘yep, it’s our year.’”