Switching from fullback to the forwards is a rarity in league, but it’s a feat that Warriors Women’s lock Louisa Gago has managed.
In the 1980’s versatile players such as Ellery Hanley and Gary Prohm had the ability to move from the backline to the pack, while Lance Hohaia was one of the foremost examples in the modern era, but it’s become unusual.
Gago, who wore the No.13 jersey for the Warriors against the Dragons in the second round of the NRLW on Saturday, was a fullback as she came up through the grades.
But fate – and a series of injuries – led to her swapping the glamour for the grit.
“I was really fast back in high school and I was a fullback,” Gago told the Herald. “And then over the years I had a few injuries, so it was hard for me to go back to being a fullback or a centre. When I came back I gained a bit of weight so the coach thought I would be okay if I went back to the forwards.”
There was a prolonged period of adjustment, especially as Gago, at 1.59m and 69 kilos, isn’t particularly big for a forward.
“It took me a while to learn the role, especially because I am the smallest in the team,” said Gago. “It was a bit hard for me, with all the contact and the big forwards all around me.”
But the 23-year-old has thrived in the position, representing the Kiwi Ferns in the 2017 Auckland Nines tournament before being selected for last year’s League World Cup, where the Ferns progressed to the final.
“To be honest now I thank my coach all the time, for making the call to move [me] to the forwards, ” said Gago. “I would never return to the backs again. I love the work rate that we have in the middle, and always knowing that we are going to play a big role in the game.”
Gago impressed in the Warriors 10-4 win over the Roosters last Saturday. She had a high defensive work rate, and ran a great line off a Laura Mariu pass for the team’s second try.
Gago, who describes herself as a lifelong ‘leaguie’, is still overwhelmed to be part of the first Warriors squad in the NRLW.
“I’ve been a massive supporter of the Warriors since I was a kid,” said Gago.
“I remember watching the first grand final [in 2002], when I was young. I can’t believe I am part of the club, and am so honoured about how the women’s game has grown over the past 10 years.”
On Saturday Gago faced a familiar foe, with long time Kiwi Fern Honey Hireme at centre for the Dragons.
Hireme has been a legend of the sport, and crossed for 13 tries in four matches at the 2017 World Cup, but has opted for the opportunity across the Tasman.
The 37-year-old is one of five New Zealand-born players turning out for the Sydney club.
“She was my roomie at World Cup so it was good to see her again,” said Gago. “But this time it was against each other, which was a bit different. But it’s a good opportunity for her over there.”
By NZ Herald – Michael Burgess