When considering what could be one of the greatest challenges in life, a woman pursuing a fulltime rugby career could be one of the toughest feats.
Melanie Kawa, also known to many as Mel, is no stranger to rugby in Oceania, having played for more than a decade, been involved in many rugby clubs and most notably and recently – the Melbourne Rebels and the Papua New Guinea Palais 7s team.
“The single greatest challenge for me has been choosing to pursue rugby as a profession for many years at my own cost because of the love of the game,” Kawa said.
“As a woman, there are extremely limited options for me to make a living doing what I love (playing rugby), and therefore I’ve sacrificed jobs, relationships, and moved internationally and across Australia to pursue my rugby dreams.
Also, because there is no professional women’s league in Australia, any injuries or time spent in rehabilitation is also at my own cost, unlike the men’s game around the world,” she added.
Kawa who joined the Queensland Rugby team at her first go, began her rugby career in 2006 and has not looked back since.
“I joined University of QLD rugby team in 2006 when asked by a Papua New Guinean friend to give it a go. I attended one practice and it changed my life," Kawa said.
She added that the most significant for her in rugby has been the friendships she’s made that she believes will be lifelong.
Kawa’s lists among her key achievements:
Playing for the Brooklyn Women’s Rugby club in New York City,
Being the first PNG woman to ever play professional rugby in France (Montpellier Herault Rugby Club),
Captaining the first PNG Women’s XVs team at the Oceania tournament in 2016, the Hong Kong Qualifiers in 2018 and at the Oceania 7s in 2018.
She was also part of the PNG Palais 7s team that played in San Francisco in the Rugby 7s World Cup in 2018, the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa and is currently the co-Captain of the Melbourne Rebels Super W XV women’s team.
“I know I’m unstoppable because of the many challenges and obstacles that I’ve encountered and overcome with perseverance and patience.
Through challenges such as injuries, financial levies as a woman athlete, sexism in rugby, managing my professional career and full time work with my rugby training, and other struggles in life that affect my goals of playing high-level rugby, I’ve learned that there are many roads to the proverbial “mountain top” and while the road may change, the goal doesn’t have to change,” Kawa said.
Despite these challenges Kawa, stills thrives as she works as Development Officer with Rugby in Victoria, working with schools and rugby clubs to coach and introduce rugby to new players.
Kawa’s background is in International Public Health and she enjoys working with people in local settings to enhance health detriments for safer communities.
When speaking about her biggest supporters, Kawa said that her biggest supporter has been her family and friends.
“My brother Jonny in Cairns is also my oldest friend and always proud of me. He pursued community development work as well as art and creative music, and I’m also very proud of him,” she said.
When describing his sister, Jonny Kawa said
“It’s remarkable how much Mel has endured, and still triumphed. You cannot escape rugby’s physical, mental and emotion assault on the body and mind. I think that it’s her entire rugby experience and depth of knowledge of the game that gives her an auspicious presence on the field, here lies Mel’s greatest achievement and I could not be more inspired and proud of my big sister.”