Athletes to star in rugby league
FIFTEEN years ago Jo Barrett, Stephanie Hancock and Heather Ballinger all won Warwick All Schools athletics age championships in the same carnival.
On September 3, all three will play for Australia in the same rugby league Test match for the Australian Jillaroos in Samoa.
The trio played for the Queensland team which beat New South Wales in an interstate game before the first 2011 State of Origin.
Barrett was at Warwick State High School 15 years ago, Hancock at Killarney State School and Ballinger, a boarder from Longreach, at Scots PGC College.
While Hancock is a regular in the Jillaroos side and Barrett heads into her eighth international, Ballinger will debut at Test level in Samoa in the 19-member Australian team.
All three represented Queensland at national level in athletics – Hancock won a national open title in javelin, Barrett placed in hammer and Ballinger threw the shot for Queensland in secondary school nationals.
“I wanted to try to compete in athletics for Australia and had a coach lined up after I finished school but decided to have a break,” Ballinger said.
“It is a bonus to now make it into an Australian team in rugby league.”
Ballinger debuted for Australia in a tour game in 2009 but struggled with an ankle injury and didn’t play a Test.
“It is awesome to be playing with two girls I remember from school days.
"Jo looked at me one day at rugby league and said you used to go to Scots PGC,” Ballinger said.
She now lives in Cairns and works with the Australian Federal Police at Cairns Airport.
“I can’t wait to play a Test for Australia and want to keep playing as long as I can,” Ballinger said.
At age 30, Barrett is the oldest of the trio and not thinking about retirement.
Barrett can’t speak highly enough of what Hancock means to women’s teams.
“Stephanie is a bit like what Greg Inglis (Origin star) is to teams in which he plays,” she said.
“She has a real presence in our teams and gets the job done."