Haneen Zreika’s GIANT bid to make NRL and AFL history in 2020

Originally published on dailytelegraph.com.au

From the age of 14 playing rugby league at school against boys who nicknamed her “Harry”, Haneen Zreika started to break down barriers.

Before she left her teens she was the first Muslim to play in the AFLW and the first woman of Lebanese descent to play in the elite competition.

Now, age 20, Zreika has her sights set on creating more sporting history.

Preparing for her third season of AFLW with the GWS Giants, Zreika has outlined a plan she hopes will see her become the first athlete to play in both the AFLW and NRLW competitions.

“I love my AFL and I love my rugby league,” said Zreika, who will play with the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs in the Harvey Norman Premiership at the end of the 2020 AFLW season.

“Hopefully from there might be a chance to get into the NRL women’s and doing both.

“It’s my goal.’’

Zreika started playing rugby league at school but even though she was supposed to stop at 12 she still played on with the boys.

“I was the only girl but they didn’t give me a hard time. They didn’t care,” said Zreika, who works as a teachers aid at Casula Primary and lives at Chester Hill.

“They called me Harry. It was a big joke. It was Harry this, heh Harry, Harry come here.”

“Rugby league was the natural thing for me. AFL I had to start from scratch, learned to kick, the rules.

“When I started I didn’t know a thing about it. My teacher just said go out and tackle, kick and catch and you will be all right.

“I loved it from the start.”

Zreika said while she is embracing the challenge, there has been additional pressure on her as a trailblazer.

“It’s been a lot. But it’s been good. Sometimes there’s a lot of pressure to perform knowing I am always being watched and judged culture wise and being a normal person wise,’’ she said.

“It is pressured but it’s a good thing. It makes me always do my best and be my best.

“When I played my first game it opened so many doors for the next generation of young girls who never thought they could play sport. I wanted to inspire and show them I can be a good player and a good person.’’

Zreika said she enjoys putting herself in new situations that are helping her grow as a player and person.

“Every day I try and do something out of my comfort zone, something that will make me a better player,’’ she said. “When I’m in the comfy zone I don’t grow.

“Last November I went on a camp and prayed in front of my teammates. That was me getting out of my comfort zone as well. They were cool. It was a big step for me.

“I now also tell players what I can and can’t do. For instance we had skin fold testing and I didn’t want to show my stomach in front of them, need to be a bit more modest.

“And with food I can’t eat anything that is not halal.

“Some of my teammates hadn’t met a Muslim until me. I like it they ask me about my culture.’’

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