Georgia Hale’s tireless and compassionate work, using her sport of rugby league to create opportunities for many different communities, has earned her the title of Young New Zealander of the Year.
As soon as she left high school, Georgia Hale began working with children with intellectual disabilities. It changed her life.
The 24-year-old Warriors women’s captain was named the Young New Zealander of the Year at Kiwibank’s annual ceremony last night, for her unwavering commitment to working with people across an array of different communities.
But there’s one that remains closest to her heart.
“When I was 18, I managed to get a position as a learning support teacher working with children who have intellectual disabilities,” says Hale, who was working at her old high school, Auckland’s Long Bay College.
“That’s where the drive to give back to people stems from. The students ended up teaching me so much.”
Alongside her burgeoning rugby league career, Hale is the community relations coordinator at the New Zealand Warriors. When the opportunity arose three years ago to work for the franchise (which celebrated 25 years in the NRL last year), it was a smooth transition.
Hale’s teaching experience put her in good stead for the role, which takes her to schools and grassroots rugby league clubs, and still influences her work today.
“We run a footy clinic here and have a team of people who have intellectual disabilities. They get to play at Mt Smart too,” says the Kiwi Ferns loose forward.
“We’re taking them to Wellington this year to play against the intellectual disabilities team there, which we helped to set up last year.”
One member of the Auckland team, Shakur, is one of Hale’s former students, and the pair have formed a special bond since her teaching days.
A huge league fan, Shakur, who has Down syndrome, can sometimes be found out and about with Hale helping with the initiatives she organises.
“I took Shakur to his high school ball a couple of years ago, and we hang out on a regular basis,” she says.
Being able to use the game to open up opportunities for people is an element the young captain cherishes.
“I 100 percent have the best job. When you’re passionate about something and you get to live and breathe it every day, it’s amazing,” says Hale, who’s represented New Zealand in four codes – league, touch, tag football and nines.
“Connecting and engaging with different people and communities is what I love. Hopefully we’re also inspiring them at the same time. I’m so fortunate to play the sport I love and work in the game off the field too, in such a rewarding capacity.”
Warriors CEO Cameron George describes Hale as “someone very special for the women’s game as a player and ambassador for a long time ahead.”
On top of her hectic playing and working schedules, it appears Hale still manages to fill her down-time with big-hearted deeds.
Earlier this week she organised an evening for Warriors players and staff to cook for families staying at Ronald McDonald House, who have children in Starship Hospital.
She squeezed that in between her return from leading the Warriors Nines in Perth over the weekend, and heading to Palmerston North, where the Warriors community team are visiting schools, running league roadshows and preparing for the first NRL pre-season match against the Melbourne Storm on Saturday.
“I just try to do as much as I can for our club and for our team,” says Hale, who flew back to Auckland for the awards ceremony.
It may be considered part of her role, but it makes all the difference when the right people are in the right positions, believes Cameron George.
“Georgia is an outstanding human being first, and secondly, she’s got an amazing work ethic,” he says.
“She also has tremendous leadership skills – she has the ability to get the best out of people around her so she has a lot of attributes that special players and people carry.”
They are qualities and skills serving her well on and off the field. Hale is also part of the coaching unit in the Future Warriors – a junior development programme at the club.
“We’ve done that deliberately, so in time she’ll be able to implement the programme to young girls coming through our pathway,” shares George.
Although the women’s pathway has not been implemented yet, George says it’s only a matter of time.
“It’s another thing I’ve been doing on the side; I’m keen on anything that will help the future of our game,” laughs Hale. “I’m just helping out where and when I can because coaching is another space I’m interested in for the future.”
Hale was proud to lead the Warriors at the inaugural NRLW Nines competition in Perth last weekend. With a win and a loss, the women’s team missed out on the finals play-off, but made headlines after forgetting their playing gear for their opening game.
Even with the uniform hiccup – and having to wear the Warriors men’s jerseys – she says the team were able to focus on the game at hand.
“We could only control what we could control, so I was really proud to captain a side that had that kind of mentality. The girls still went out with fire in their bellies, and wanted to get the job done,” she says.
“It actually turned out to be a special experience. The boys were great about it – they pretty much took the jerseys off their backs and handed them to us. The girls felt humbled to experience wearing their strip, especially the new members.”
So, what about the future goals on the field for the Young New Zealander of the Year?
“I’m sick of coming second,” says Hale. “For my club, Richmond Rovers, we’ve come second for the last four years, so it would be lovely to finish what we started in the local competition.
“And then there will be a heavy focus on the Rugby League World Cup next year so everyone will be preparing for that. I’d also like to win the NRLW premiership title – captaining the winning team would be great. Basically, just winning in all areas this year!”
Hale would also like to continue her leadership roles on the field.
“I really enjoyed captaining the Kiwi Ferns last year and the Nines last week. So firstly, I’d like to make the teams and then I’d love to be in a leadership role again. I think it challenges me not only as a leader but as a player.
“I’m very competitive, but not when it comes to these types of awards. I’m honoured to be recognised, but I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing because it doesn’t feel like work at all to me.”