WHEN it comes to Botille Vette-Welsh’s allegiance, you might say she is the James Tamou of women’s rugby league.
Born and raised in New Zealand, the Australian Jillaroos fullback has one foot either side of the ditch for her representative career but this week playing for the Maori All Stars is by far the most important of her season.
While, like Tamou, she has played for both Australia and NSW to honour the football opportunities afforded to her since crossing the Tasman in 2010, this week is all about respecting her family’s Maori heritage.
And it’s a game which will always hold even greater significance for Vette-Welsh because it was this fixture last year which really launched her NRLW career and catapulted her towards the green and gold and the Red V.
“This was like my foot in the door to open to the rest of the opportunities I got last year,” Vette-Welsh said.
“This (game) is very special. It’s the start of something that can be quite great for each individual.
“It's always good to be part of this with the girls and be reunited with our culture and celebrate it with our sisters. It is really exciting.”
The 23-year-old jokes about the similarity between her situation and Tamou's. The Penrith skipper withdrew from this year’s clash, otherwise he would be in camp with the men’s Maori All Stars this week too.
Now, as a speedy fullback, it would be easier to compare Vette-Welsh to Maoris All Star No.1 Kalyn Ponga, who decided to play for Queensland rather than New Zealand. But now she’s been fully Blues-blooded, we won’t go there.
“I got a chance to play Origin, I didn’t even care about Origin any other time. I thought I was a Blues person just because I started (playing league) in NSW but now I hate everything about Queensland,” she said.
“My family said 'why would you play for Australia?', but I said they’ve given me all my opportunities so I’ve got to pay back what I can.
“Because of being able to play Maoris I was more open to playing for Australia because if I get to play for a country that has helped me and my family so much and still be able to play for my people then it’s a win-win situation. This is the best of both worlds.”
Signed to the St George Illawarra Dragons in the NRLW, Vette-Welsh comes into Saturday’s All Stars clash on the Gold Coast high on confidence after last week’s Nines tournament win over the Broncos.
While she now finds herself standing on the opposite side of the field to some of her Dragons and Jillaroos teammates, she will take great pleasure in trying to repeat last year’s defeat of the Indigenous women so she remains at the forefront of selectors’ minds for rep duties and NRLW contracts later this year.
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“The Nines was crazy, it was so exciting,” she said.
“I think the Broncos are the team to beat and just the team that everyone else looks up to in the NRLW so to finally get a win over them was really rewarding.
“I think winning is always the main goal when we come here but I think it’s more about being able to celebrate our culture and celebrate with our Indigenous girls of Australia as well.
“It’s celebrating and recognising who we are and why we are here and just being able to play footy on top of that is just a bonus.
“As much as we’re enemies country-wise, we’re definitely sisters when it comes to this sort of stuff.”