The First Tackle
Wombat Books, 2022
136pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99
Daniella Murphy is on a mission. All she has ever wanted to do is play rugby league, just like her three brothers. However, her grandma who has come to live with the family since Daniella’s mother died says no, her dad stays silent and the school bully just laughs in her face. Their message is clear – girls don’t play footy. But is this just being sexist or is there another reason?
As Daniella watches her older brother Jimmy practise with the Banford Saints she spies a girl playing! One who becomes an even bigger hero for her than Kalyn Ponga because here is proof that girls can and do play rugby league! She is more determined than ever and so, against the adults’ wishes, she gets Jimmy to teach her to tackle – until an accident that lands her in hospital blows open the lies and the secrets…
This is an engaging read that encourages readers to follow their dreams, to not give up and not give in, even if they’re somewhat out of the ordinary – an inscription my mum wrote to me in a dedication in her book she wrote after she became the first female journalist to go to the Antarctic over 50 years ago, and one I’ve believed in since then. So, at first, the grandmother’s attitude annoyed me because it seemed so sexist, so out-of-touch and so dated, particularly as I have a grandchild the same age as Daniella who is definitely not the girly-girl Daniella is expected to be. But as the story evolves the reasons behind Grandma’s thinking emerge, her father begins to function as a father and even the school bully begins to reveal what’s behind his attitude (so common to many bullies) giving the story depth and currency.
As the AFLW and NRLW reach their peak, young female league players might begin to wonder why the existence of the NRLW is such a revelation to Daniella, but, nevertheless, they will resonate with her determination and passion to play the game she loves as they immerse themselves in her story. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey included, “Begin with the end in mind so all your steps are in the right direction” and so it is common to have even quite young students start their school term with a goal-setting exercise and thus this book could be a useful read-aloud for them to identify not only their goal for the next 10 weeks or so, but also the things they need to do for themselves to achieve it. Who are the people they need to approach for help, what actions and activities do they need to commit to, how will they know that they are making progress or even success? What can they learn from Daniella’s realisation about having to do it for herself rather than expecting it to be handed to her and from Steph’s revelation that “you can’t be what you can’t see”? Further teaching notes are available.