It was once billed as a social way for footballers to keep fit over the off-season, but now OzTag is proving to be the perfect player development pool for women’s rugby league.
O’Brien, an accomplished competitor who has played at the state and national OzTag titles, developed a love for league and made the transition in 2016 alongside many of her teammates.
She says the unity she experienced in the non-contact game was a big factor in her decision to join her friends in rugby league.
“OzTag is a team sport which encourages sportsmanship and mateship; key reasons I made the move from OzTag to rugby league,” she said.
O’Brien said having those previous teammates and close friends with her on the journey made it easier.
“Joining the new sport with familiar players and friends made the leap less of a jump and more exciting.”
She completed that jump with ease, quickly proving to be a footballing natural.
Playing alongside a host of OzTag alumni for her local side Cronulla-Caringbah, O’Brien was a standout and earned herself selection in the first-ever Women’s NRL match for the Cronulla Sharks against the St. George Illawarra Dragons just months after her debut game.
Big-name players like Ferguson, Ruan Sims, Sammy Bremner, Corban McGregor, Maddie Studdon and Kezie Apps also participated in the historic match, which was eventually won 16-12 by the Sharks.
O’Brien credited OzTag with providing the foundations that allowed her to slot in seamlessly amongst such talent.
“OzTag is essentially a non-physical version of league, [so it] enables women to try out the basics of the game in a safer and less intimidating environment while learning the fundamental skills a rugby league player needs,” she said.
“[It’s] definitely a game that acts as a pathway for women to play rugby league.”
As more opportunities are presented for promising youngsters to progress through the junior representative ranks via competitions like the under-18s Tarsha Gale Cup, be prepared to see an influx of gifted OzTag players emulate Ferguson, O’Brien and many other current stars by making the shift from velcro tags to shoulder pads.