'We had no one to look up to' - Sergis excited to be a role model

Growing up, St George Illawarra Dragons wing Jessica Sergis never had any female rugby league players to look up to - she didn't even know there was a pathway for girls to play the game. Now, with the launch of the Women's NRL, the 20-year-old can't wait to be a role model for young girls.

Returning to the sport last year, Sergis has already made a quick rise through the women's rugby league ranks, debuting in the NSW Origin side before making her national debut for the Jillaroos, and she's already gained a fan following.

"It's pretty surreal," Sergis tells ESPN. "When I was younger I wouldn't have ever thought this could ever happen. It's so exciting when people tap you on the shoulder and ask for your autograph or ask for a photo, I feel like that doesn't happen to us, that's more for the men.

"It honestly makes our day when we get random messages on social media, and it just feels so good for them [girls] to take time out of their day just to message us and appreciate what we're doing. It feels really good to know that there are people out there who do watch us."

Running out in the second ever NRLW game on Sunday for the Dragons was a dream come true moment for the speedster, who growing up could never imagine a women's national league competition.

"It was so good to be out there, I didn't think any of it would ever happen," she said. "Just to get that chance to go out there. Even though it's only four teams, we're all just so excited for the opportunity we're getting to showcase some women's rugby league."

As women's sport continues to break new ground, Sergis says she is proud of the work she and her fellow WNRL players had been putting in as rugby league continues to build more opportunities for females.

"When I was growing up we could only look up to boys and only dream of what they could experience but now because the game is growing so much, it's starting to get televised and we're getting so much publicity, girls growing up now don't have to look up to the boys any more, we've got our girls," she said.

"It was definitely something I lacked when growing up, we had no one to look up to and we didn't know what pathways we had to play women's rugby league. Now that's such a big thing and it's growing they've got women to look up to now and they can follow our journey."

Taking up the sport at a young age, Sergis only lasted a few years before she gave it away after she became fearful of the boys she was playing with. She began to play Aussie Rules and rugby union instead, but her heart was never truly in those sports.

"When I was younger we just grew up with the sport - our weekends were always at the footy and we were always at the NRL," she said. "I knew what I wanted to play. My dad put me into a team, but it was only for a couple of years - I was getting targeted and I lost the confidence. So I pulled out and never really gave it a shot again.

"I made a switch to AFL and union and played a few years of that, and I did get coached to go to the Olympics for sevens, but they were wanting me to drop out of school and wanted me to quit all my other sports and I didn't really love the sport to give up all my other sports or to give up my education, so that fell through."

While she was unable to play the sport she loved due to age restrictions, Sergis continued to spend time at the training fields.

"I started going to my brother's training with my dad and helped him out coaching," Sergis said. "I did it for about three or four years, I grew up with the boys. It was every Thursday for a couple hours a night and we'd just run through drills and do all the basic stuff and at games I was kind of like the manager."

Now, close to a decade after she gave the sport away, Sergis has been given the chance to live out her dream and while the competition is only small, with just the four teams in its inaugural season, she can't wait to see the competition expand.

"I know it's going to take time, and we're all so stoked with this opportunity that we've been given, but at the same time we hope one day we can be like the men and our job can playing NRL and we can just train, play and that will be our jobs."