Anahera Parata's parents nicknamed her "the paua", because she stuck to their sides wherever they went, so moving to the Gold Coast to chase her rugby league dreams was a big step out of her comfort zone.

With few opportunities for women to play rugby league in New Zealand, Parata leapt at the opportunity to play for the West Brisbane Panthers in the Queensland Women's Division 1 competition.

Dad Jason Parata and mum Ranui Tamati-Parata coach and manage Pikiao's premier rugby league team in Rotorua. In recent seasons she was at every game and training, helping out where she could, but she always had aspirations of taking the field herself.

"I'd gotten contact details for the coach from one of Pikiao's sponsors Tazmin Gray. When I first joined the West Brisbane Panthers it was pretty nerve-racking, my cousin had driven me to training and I didn't want to get out of the car until I'd seen a player who was good friends with my cousin and asked him to take me over to the coach. I didn't know anyone."

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The club originally planned to have a single team, but with more than 30 women signed up they were able to field teams in Division 1 and 2. Parata played the majority of the season in Division 2, but was called up to Division 1 later in the season.

"I thought that was appropriate considering it was my first full season of rugby league since I played juniors when I was 10. I wanted to learn as much as I could and develop my game before demanding a spot in Division 1.

Anahera Parata takes a kick for the West Brisbane Panthers. Photo/Supplied
Anahera Parata takes a kick for the West Brisbane Panthers. Photo/Supplied

The highlight of her season was playing for the Division 1 side in the final, against the Burleigh Bears. The game was played at Cbus Super Stadium as the curtain-raiser to the NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Penrith Panthers last weekend.

"Playing in the final was massive. I felt really emotional beforehand - a mix of excitement, nerves and being overwhelmed with all the support I was receiving through social media leading up to the big day. I was so nervous to play at such a big stadium like Cbus, all my life I thought the biggest field I would play on was Field 1 at Puketawhero in front of a big crowd.

"I play league because it's my passion. When I play, nothing else exists. I forget about things that would usually be on my mind throughout the day, like bills, work and even being homesick. I enjoy the physicality of it, being able to put a hit on someone without getting in trouble and also the amount of skill involved in scoring tries."

This year the NRL announced it would host the first Premiership competition for women's rugby league, which Parata said was "amazing".

"I always believed one day it would happen, but I didn't think it would happen so soon, so to see the women's game getting big like this is really cool.

Anahera Parata (left) with her dad Jason and mum Ranui at Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast. Photo/Supplied
Anahera Parata (left) with her dad Jason and mum Ranui at Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast. Photo/Supplied

"I definitely think we need more opportunities for women to play in New Zealand, especially in regions other than Auckland. I don't think having a Women's National Competition is quite enough.

"Ladies are having to go straight from no rugby league competition games at all to playing for their districts/regions at a national level against experienced players and even Kiwi Ferns with no development leading up to it.

"I'm not sure if that's New Zealand Rugby League's job or the regions', but women's rugby league in Australia is growing fast and I think New Zealand needs to get on board too."

She was already looking forward to playing again next season.

"I'm already trying to work out my pre-season training. My long-term goals are to learn as much about the game as I can to see where it takes me and one day move back to Rotorua to help develop women's and girls' rugby league."