At 17, Monalisa Soliola had barely played a game of rugby league in her life. At 18, she’ll be making her NRLW debut for one of the competition powerhouses.
- Dragons NRLW rookie Monalisa Soliola only took up rugby league 12 months ago
- She’ll make her first grade debut on Sunday at age 18
- Soliola is related to former Raiders prop Sia Soliola
It’s been a whirlwind 12 months for Soliola, who only pulled on the boots for the first time a year ago for a run around with St John’s Eagles in Sydney’s west and will now come off the bench for the Dragons in their NRLW season opener against the Titans on Sunday.
“This time last year I’d just started my footy journey, playing for St John’s. I didn’t think I’d get this opportunity or that I’d be at this level, especially just in a year,” Soliola said.
“I had no thought in my mind that this could happen, it was a goal but I didn’t think it would happen like this.
“It’s been different to what I expected, it’s been a higher level than I thought it would be. I thought it might be a bit like Harvey Norman (women’s premiership) with the Sharks and I was so wrong, going into training straight off the bat it was way faster, everyone was more switched on.
“I can tell the game will be faster and the contact will be way bigger, so it’ll be a big jump. But as an NRLW player I have to believe in myself, that I deserve to be here because I’ve worked just as hard as anybody.”
Rugby league has always been a part of Soliola’s life. Former Raiders prop Sia Soliola is a cousin to her father John – who named her in memory of another cousin — and she’s the eldest of ten siblings, eight of whom currently play for St John’s.
She finally took up the sport after falling out of love with netball and from there the front-rower has gone from strength to strength, shining for Canterbury in Tarsha Gale Cup, then for Cronulla in the NSW Women’s Premiership before representing New South Wales Under 19s.
Soliola is still getting her head around her meteoric rise – with the NRLW entering its fifth season, she’s part of the first generation of players who grew up watching the competition and admits to still being star-struck on occasions.
“It’s so buzzy at the moment. I can’t wrap my head around that I was playing with Tiana Penitani at the Sharks after hearing about her and watching her for years, it’s the same with Kezie Apps and Holli Wheeler,” she said.
“Kezie has that natural leader aura, it’s kind of eye-opening, it inspires me to be strong.
“I always wanted to play with them, but now it’s actually happening? No way. No way can that be real. It’s so awesome.”
Just breaking into the Dragons top side is an achievement for Soliola, especially given the club’s star-studded forward pack was the impetus for their charge to last season’s grand final.
She’ll be tasked with acting as an interchange weapon, a task she’s well suited for given her power, athleticism and skill – while she’s a forward by trade, Soliola has also spent time in the halves in her brief rugby league career..
But as Soliola prepares for the biggest game of her life so far, she’s aiming to have a far greater impact than just making a couple of big carries.
“It’s nothing to do with anything physical, I just want to bring all the passion I can because when I play the game I’m so passionate,” Soliola said.
“I want girls to realise this isn’t just a game, it’s something that I love doing not for the money, not for anything, just because I love playing.
“I’ve fallen in love with the game and I’m here to show everyone, and St George itself, the love for the game that I have.
“The game is more than the ball or the pass, it’s the people I get to meet, the lessons I get to learn. The life lessons, not just the footy lessons. This is more than a game to me.”