Kiwi league star Charlotte Scanlan has finally made it home after being stranded in Australia, but she was willing to give her coveted MIQ spot to a Newcastle Knights team-mate.
Charlotte Scanlan has been on a rollercoaster ride over the last six months.
But the crazy journey for the dual international league and sevens player has come to an abrupt stop, as she sits for two weeks in MIQ back in New Zealand. She’s one of the lucky ones.
Scanlan was one of the eight New Zealand women stuck in Australia since the 2021 NRLW season was finally cancelled – after three postponement announcements. The competition will now kick-off in early 2022.
Her MIQ lottery win – the only player to secure a spot back home – is just another twist in Scanlan’s tumultuous year.
“Honestly, it’s been insane,” the utility forward says over the phone while she waits for her Covid-test call up. “I think coming back from Japan because of Covid, then getting the NRLW opportunity, not having the Warriors be involved so going to play for another club, then that getting postponed three times… it’s just insane, absolutely hectic.
“I was very on-edge yesterday even when I got to my hotel. I took a moment to breathe and realise, ‘OK, I’m here.’ I’m feeling good today.”
But Scanlan, who was primed to play for the inaugural Newcastle Knights side, says the feeling of seeing the confirmed MIQ spot was “very bittersweet.”
“All the other girls didn’t get a spot, so then it was the realisation that I was doing it all by myself and leaving them behind,” says Scanlan, who works for the New Zealand Warriors.
It’s “a bit of a mixed bag” how the other New Zealand players stranded in Australia are feeling.
“Over there we have girls who are flourishing, loving the opportunity to be a professional athlete,” Scanlan says. “But then we also have the girls that are just homebodies.”
They went over to play and represent their families, but once the NRLW season was cancelled, it hit home that they were missing their usual support crews. And Scanlan was willing to give her MIQ spot away to one of the homesick players.
“I even asked the question, ‘Is it possible to give a MIQ spot away because of that?’” says Scanlan.
“I’ve done it before, I’ve lived overseas so it’s not so much of a big thing for me. And I knew some of our girls were really struggling. But just because of the way MIQ works, there’s nothing you can do to change it.”
Scanlan then asked if someone could join her in an MIQ room, given she had been in the same Newcastle bubble with some of the New Zealand-based players. But the travelling details couldn’t be changed. “Once you’ve said you’re an individual traveller, they say ‘No’.”
So, would she then go back to Australia for the NRLW next year?
“Absolutely,” laughs Scanlan. “I know it’s crazy and I know it’s a bit of a whirlwind, but you look at the Black Ferns and they’re going overseas to play. It’s just something about playing and achieving and being in a team environment that just pushes you that little bit more.
“It is crazy that pre-season starts in January, so it’s not like you get too much of a breather. But I’m just so thankful for my work for being extremely supportive of me chasing the dream. Because I know that a lot of jobs can’t afford to, so I’m really lucky.”
Scanlan is the community co-ordinator at the New Zealand Warriors. She’s part of the team who go into primary schools to deliver programmes, including one focused on nutrition, hydration and sleep.
“The kids are awesome, they are absolutely amazing,” Scanlan says. “You can just see them light up and you kind of create that idea that it’s actually possible to go and chase your dreams. It’s possible to do whatever you want to do and come from a small town, or come from New Zealand.” Scanlan grew up in the small town of Feilding, 20 minutes from Palmerston North.
The programmes are delivered in primary schools, but eventually a programme in high schools would be ideal, says Scanlan. “Especially around that mental health space, that’s something I’m really passionate about.”
Scanlan’s time in sport is not up yet. She grew up playing rugby, but made her Kiwi Ferns debut at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. She switched to sevens when the opportunity to represent New Zealand was on the cards.
After playing two years on the world sevens circuit, she moved to Japan to continue her rugby career – playing there for five years. On her return home, Scanlan switched back to league, making the Kiwi Ferns again for their one-off game against Fetu Samoa late last year.
Now she’s aiming to be named in the New Zealand squad for the postponed Rugby League World Cup in England next year.
“I’m really hoping that’s going to be a full circle moment. That was my first ever black jersey, the World Cup in England, so I’m trying to finish with the World Cup in England,” laughs Scanlan.
For now, she wants to take the time to refresh and connect with family. “Filling up those cups, and then as an older athlete, I know how crucial off-season is to actually performing in pre-season to become the best athlete,” she says.
“So it’s making sure even though it’s the silly season coming up, that I’m still ticking those boxes. Still hitting the roads, doing mobility exercises and making sure the body is sorted to get a bit of a hammering for the long season next year.”
What’s kept her going through the setbacks?
“I love the team environment, I love putting on a jersey and representing something greater than myself, like my family,” says Scanlan, who also received some difficult personal news early this year when her brother was diagnosed with cancer.
“And I suppose as an older athlete, I know this could be my last year or anything could happen. And things are going to change so to take every opportunity, no matter how messy the opportunity is, and just run with it.”
After sports, Scanlan would like to stay within the Warriors and is planning on coaching at a high level. “I’m very passionate about the female space as well and I know that the female coaches are growing, but it’s not where it needs to be,” she says.
“So I’m hoping to try and be in that space, for other people to look up and be like ‘I can coach’, ‘I can be a female and coach a NRLW team’, or ‘I can be a female and coach a New Zealand team’ and not have that be seen as such a male-dominated space.”
She also wants to help create pathways for women to become professional athletes. “And not only to become professional athletes, but be given the opportunity to thrive in it,” Scanlan says.
“To gather all the tools that they need, which often get skipped with females. The boys have so many pathways to help build them up into that professional space, but a lot of our girls have cross-coded or just jumped in randomly and they’ve just got raw talent.
“They don’t have all that experience behind them to navigate the stress, and the highs and lows that come with that.”
Some of the younger players coming through the ranks turn to Scanlan for advice.
“A few of our girls were looking at staying on in Newcastle, given it’s only a couple of months, and I’m a massive driver for taking opportunities,” she says.
“A couple of months might seem long now, but in the scheme of things, it’s nothing. You don’t ever want to have regrets when it comes to being an athlete because it’s so short-lived.”
At the moment, rugby league pathways for women coaches in New Zealand are in the infancy stage. But Scanlan has had some experience coaching rugby, taking level two coaching courses.
“Things like that were huge for me, to just open my eyes and talk to other female coaches, or aspiring coaches and the difficulties they have,” says Scanlan. “Also just brainstorming and being like ‘Oh I really want to do this’, or ‘This would be awesome in the female space’.
“I think it’s super-powerful when you get a bunch of women together who have been told ‘No’ their whole lives, to be like ‘This is what I want to achieve.’ And to know that there are all of us out there trying to knock down those doors and then create these pathways for other females coming through.”
Scanlan always thought she would be coaching rugby, but after her time playing sevens in Japan, she’s now leaning towards league.
“I fully enjoyed the development phase so I would actually like to try and grow rugby league here a bit more,” she says. “And with the NRLW growing so much, it actually gives a pathway career-wise.”
After a heavily-publicised backlash over the handling of the NRLW season cancellation, the one piece of advice Scanlan would offer to administrators is to be better with communication.
“I think you have to have an open dialogue when it comes to your athletes,” says Scanlan. “And with it being such a new space, you can’t just put us in with the men, and think we’re going to think the same. And more importantly do the same things or that our priorities are the same.
“So it’s just keeping that dialogue open because it’s not going to be a smooth ride. It’s new, it’s growing, it’s evolving and just like the women space here, we need to find that funding and get that money so the women are going to be understanding. But we’ve just got to give them the opportunity to understand.”