Maroons prop Heather Ballinger, on right, and Queensland teammate Meg Ward. Pics Adam Head
Maroons prop Heather Ballinger, on right, and Queensland teammate Meg Ward. Pics Adam Head

Ballinger’s rocky road to Maroons success

She's a Maroons stalwart now but it took Heather Ballinger all of her Queensland grit to get there more than a decade ago.

On Friday night, the prop will lead the Queenslanders from the front in their annual Women's State of Origin clash against New South Wales, in what could be her final appearance in state colours before hanging up the boots.

Born and bred in Longreach, Ballinger said she was always a footy fan growing up, but began to take her rugby league more seriously after moving to Cairns in 2005 as a 23-year-old.

"I got relocated through work," she said.

"I wanted to get back to Queensland and they only offered me Cairns.

"I had nothing to lose so I thought I'd give it a go.

"I got up there and fell in love with the place and got back into my sport."

Ballinger played for Ivanhoes Maidens in the Cairns District Rugby League's inaugural women's competition, which kicked off in 2005, but struggled to establish herself on the field that year and in the seasons that followed following a horror run of injuries.

 

Heather Ballinger, playing for the Brisbane Broncos, scores a try during an NRLW match against the Sydney Roosters. Picture: Brett Costello
Heather Ballinger, playing for the Brisbane Broncos, scores a try during an NRLW match against the Sydney Roosters. Picture: Brett Costello

 

"In the first season I broke my wrist, so I pretty much missed that entire year season in 2005," she said.

"In 2006, I only got to play half the season due to being away for work, and then the following year I tore my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), which was another season pretty much done.

"That was really disappointing because I had made selection for Queensland in '07, but never got to make my debut."

The ACL injury required surgery and put Ballinger on the sidelines for an extended period. During that time, the prop weighed up whether playing rugby league was something she wanted to keep pursuing.

Not content to give up on her dreams, Ballinger would return to the field in 2009 after much deliberation.

"I eventually got to get my hands on the ball and play a lot more rugby league," she said.

"I came back on board and was lucky enough to make my debut for Queensland that year and I've never looked back."

In her 11th year as a state representative player, Ballinger said she was overwhelmed with the treatment the girls were getting.

"This is probably the first time we went into camp a week before the game," she said.

"It's been very formal and we had our first official Maroons launch - these are things we never had back in the day.

"We've gone from a shared room and communal showers to what I call a five-star facility, where we have gym access, fields out the back, you've got your own double bed - it's a massive change.

"There's a feeling that it's finally happening amongst the girls."

Ballinger said she was "absolutely pumped" for tonight's game, which could be the 37-year-old's last for the Maroons.

"After last season, I went away and got myself better," she said.

"I did a lot of work in the off-season, not knowing if I was going to play or not, and to get that call up was a massive relief, because you've always got to earn your spot in the team."

Maroons coach Jason Hetherington said Ballinger's experience made her an integral part to this year's squad.

"She's been there a long time and she has a real understanding of what we're about and what the Queensland way is," he said.

"She's also a great player - very tough, committed to the cause and passionate about the Queensland jersey, and also about winning.

"She takes a lot of pride in performing well and she won't let us down."

The Women's State of Origin will be held at North Sydney Oval on Friday night.

Kick off is at 7.45pm.


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