The inaugural series of the Buildcorp Super W competition has now been run and won.
The epic final between NSW and Queensland - the two teams which finished on top of the table at season’s end - was the culmination of six weeks of quality women’s rugby that surprised some but underlined the conviction of most that this was a step by Rugby Australia long overdue.
During the series there were many highlights – a handful of teens whose talent lit up the field; crossover athletes testing themselves in a new sporting landscape and veterans who had paid many a due on the long hard road of representative service with little recognition or support of their past commitment, now embracing a new era.
One such veteran is Louise Burrows – 'Cookie' to those who know her well.
Having entered her fourth decade, she has become somewhat of a legend as she continues to play at the top level of women’s rugby.
For Burrows, there is no escaping the fact she has hit the big ‘40’ but she has become defiant in the face of its relevance and her feelings are very strong about the ‘can’t’ premise.
“My coach says to me ‘Oh you’re getting to 40, you’re getting older.’ But I think if I feel good and I’m training well and I’m playing well, why does age have to matter,” she said.
“Before, (it was) women can’t play rugby – but now we can. You can’t play rugby when you’re 40 – but I am!” Burrows laughs.
“Why can’t I? Stop talking about my age, it doesn’t matter.”
Burrows has represented Australia at four World Cups claiming more than 20 Test caps in her 20-year career.
She plays for the Canberra Royals domestically and has just enjoyed her first Super W season with her beloved ACT Brumbies.
“I’m feeling good, I’m in a good place,” Burrows said.
“When they announced the Super W was happening (in early December) I pretty much said ‘right’!
“I had been training but probably not living my whole lifestyle as an athlete so I said to myself ‘it starts from today’!”
Burrows has always been a workhorse when it comes to training and confesses her load for Super W was not much more than her normal preparation for a Nationals or a rep season but admits the Brumbies’ training sessions were at a higher intensity with a lot more contact than any of the players were used to.
While proud of her ability to adapt over the years, she admits it’s now very different to before.
“Gym sessions are now done at the Brumbies – we have great facilities there; we have everything we need for strength and conditioning and we have high performance coaches,” Burrows said.
“The S&C coaches oversee what we’re doing, prescribe the programs and supervise us in the gym so you know you’re getting the best possible program as an athlete.
“It’s been a step up in the professionalism. After the games we have been going back to the AIS for ice baths, which we don’t normally have access to after games at a facility. It’s usually in a garbage bin in the change rooms.”
Burrows also acknowledges the change in circumstance for the players entering this new era of women’s rugby.
“I’m appreciative of the opportunity we’ve been given with the Super W and for the first time ever I don’t actually have to put my hand in my pocket to play for my state,” Burrows said.
“We’re provided with our kit, travel, accommodation and that’s the first time since I started playing that’s all been included. It’s exciting and is headed in the right direction.”
In 2016, Burrows was gearing up for another tilt at Wallaroos selection for the 2017 World Cup.
Heart broken when she missed out on inclusion in the travelling squad last year, a last minute reprieve came when injury hit one of the selected props.
“Last year I got to my fourth World Cup and got more Test caps which was a dream come true,” she said.
“I had full intentions of keeping on playing because I still feel I have a lot to give to the game on and off the field and I feel good! My body really feels the best it has felt in a couple of years.”
As always, the working mother of two has relied on extended family to help with logistics. When the new competition emerged, she says her husband Mick made it very clear the family was behind her as always in her continued desire to play top tier rugby.
“To know that he will keep supporting me along the journey is huge, because some days you do feel guilty as a wife and a mum, not being home. But I hope I’m showing them what hard work can achieve,” Burrows said.
“It is something to look forward to and aspire to achieve, it’s not just the Wallaroos, this is exciting as well, it’s a step up from the national championships in terms of the quality of rugby being played and the preparation.”
Burrows is also excited by the prospect that the 2019 Super W Series will be bigger and better due to the laying of this foundation in training, development and participation.
As a 20-year veteran Burrows looks at the emerging talent and feels a mix of excitement and envy.
“I’m really excited for them and even excited for myself and thinking I just want to be a part of it as long as I can,” she said.
“I think if these girls can stay in rugby, the game will just get stronger and stronger within Australia and our sport will keep growing, not only in numbers but in the quality of rugby being played.”
Burrows is a teacher at Canberra Girls Grammar and having become a role model to her charges she is seeing the effect of her achievements on the next generation.
“I just want to see the game continue to grow and then the girls I teach at Girls Grammar and my daughter and her friends will have opportunities that I perhaps haven’t.”
On a personal level, her students seem to have been inspired and she has even received messages from parents about their daughters now seeing opportunities and looking to achieve their goals.
“We’re being (given) this opportunity to inspire the generation coming through who have an opportunity to do whatever they want.”
When the final siren does sound on the 40-year-old’s elite level playing career, she is keen to stay involved and feels she has much to offer from the sidelines.
“I think with the growth of the game at the moment and in the past, I have thought about coaching, so that could be an avenue for me,” she said.
“I do think I have something to offer but it’s a matter of when is the right time for that. But if I do go down that avenue, there are now opportunities there for coaching.”