Game changers: The women putting NRL stars to shame
Inside a Caringbah warehouse, that's been transformed into an elite gym, rugby league's richest stock can be found most mornings.
One by one, the best women to play rugby league in this country arrive just after 7am with sleep in their eyes, hunger in their heart and a mentality to improve that is so clear, Paul Gallen can often be found in the corner shaking his head in disbelief.
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"If some of the men in the NRL had the mentality of these women, I promise you the NRL would have more superstars in the game right now," Gallen, who also trains out of the same Live Athletic gym.
"The mentality of these women who play the game is 100 per cent, every session.
"In the gym, or down the park nearby at 6-7am, they're working on their game.
"I want to say that about every player in the NRL - but it wouldn't be true.''
The truth is, when NRLW stars Jessica Sergis, Maddie Studdon, Corban McGregor and Tiana Penitani appear on our TV over the next four weeks with the commencement of the 2020 premiership during the NRL finals series, footy fans can watch in the knowledge of just how hard the quartet have worked to get here.
Everything inside Live Athletic - a popular high-performance centre run by Justin Lang, the son of former premiership-winning coach John Lang - including hours of passing, kicking and tackling drills, is in addition to their weekly team training.
The Sunday Telegraph visited the gym on Thursday morning.
Penitani, an explosive winger for St George-Illawarra, leans forward over a weight bar, clutches, grips and begins to dead-lift 140 kgs.
As she lowers the bar back down, she smiles. Another personal-best is recorded.
The rough-rule of thumb is that most NRL players can dead-lift double their body weight.
By that measure, the former Rugby Sevens star could walk into any NRL gym and comparatively hold her own.
"I haven't lifted that heavy ever. It's insane - I'm the strongest I've ever been,'' Penitani said.
"It's difficult, but I know I've got a bit left in me to keep pushing those PB's.''
The rapid improvement in speed and quality of women's rugby league at the highest-level is because of what is happening inside gyms and at local parks across Sydney, Brisbane and in New Zealand.
People like Penitani, Sergis, Studdon and McGregor are putting their lives on hold for the game they love - and a game they want the next-generation of young girls to enjoy.
"The reality is we're semi-professional,'' Penitani, who played State of Origin for NSW last year, said.
"For me personally, I quit my full-time job last year to be able to commit to this.
"It was my first season of NRL last year and that's when the penny dropped for me.
"I was ready to pursue professional sport again after I had a break.
"To be able to do that I needed a performance program like Justin has here.
"And that's been me, four to five days a week, in here just ticking boxes and making sure my body is as prepared as it can be to play at that level of competition.''
The four-week tournament will feature the Dragons, Warriors, Roosters and Broncos with the NRLW draw set to be announced in coming days.
But before that, this weekend, girls as young as eight and nine will compete in League-Tag grand finals across NSW.
The non-contact game is played with rugby league rules and it's introduction at grassroots level three years ago is the pathway for the next-generation of women rugby league stars.
Penitani says she has witnessed first-hand the shift in perception and support of the women's game due to the participation of girls and young women at grassroots level.
"The League-Tag pathway which leads into the under-14, under-16 and under-18's women pathway - I didn't have that growing up,'' Penitani said.
"It was played with the boys until under-12 and then the boys would get too strong and the girls couldn't play footy anymore.
"The majority of women who play in the NRL have the younger generation in the back of our minds.
"We want to leave a footprint for those girls and create something that may not have ever happened if we didn't contribute to that.
"We've also got young girls at the games asking for autographs, even little boys coming up to us, that's massive. 10-years ago you would never have heard that.
"Girls didn't play football.
"It's changing that conversation and leaving the game in a better place than what it was.
"The competition and quality is stronger than ever before.''
And so are the women.
Originally published as Game changers: The women putting NRL stars to shame