Tahina Booth a testament to the healing power of rugby league

For Tahina Booth, having the opportunity to play for the Cronulla Sharks in this year’s Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership has been a game-changer.

Tahina only recently returned to the game after some time away and is enjoying playing alongside some of the biggest names in women’s rugby league.

"When Ruan Sims speaks, I am just in awe. I am a low-key fan girl. I feel the same way about Corban McGregor. I love the team and I love the culture," she said.

Whilst Tahina may be in awe of her team-mates, she hasn’t had the opportunity to share her personal story with them. Undoubtedly, if the rest of the team knew that story, they would be low-key fan-girling about her, too.

Tahina grew up in Papua New Guinea and has a deep personal understanding about the levels of gender inequality that exist there.

She was raped at age seven by a person known to her family. She was told that if she told anyone what had happened, they would kill her family.

The Jillaroos and Orchids after their clash in PNG in 2018.
The Jillaroos and Orchids after their clash in PNG in 2018. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

Out of love for her family and fear of the consequences, Tahina kept this a secret until she was 18.

It was then that she began to comprehend that the depression and anxiety she was experiencing was a result of that trauma suffered as a child.

From that moment, Tahina could begin to get the healing she needed, and sport played a huge role.

"As the years went by, I used sport and the power of sport to take control of my body, to find my voice and to say that I matter," Tahina said.

"What those people did to me is not going to break my spirit. I am where I am today because of sport."

As a teenager, Tahina participated in athletics, basketball, tennis, surfboat rowing, gridiron and rugby league. But it was when she was competing for Papua New Guinea in powerlifting at the South Pacific Games that Tahina realised she could have an even greater impact.

"On the day of competition, out of the 50 athletes competing, I was the only one with all the correct gear, because I was sponsored," she said.

"There were all these incredible athletes getting disqualified because they were sharing uniforms and gear and consequently being timed out because they weren’t changing fast enough.

"So I went back to Australia and asked my social media following if they had any gear to give, because I could hand it directly to the athletes. The post went viral. I thought I would have to organise excess baggage, instead I had to order a shipping container."

The Grass Skirts Project was born and has now grown into an organisation that looks to help create the cultural and societal change in Papua New Guinea necessary to improve the status and health of women through sport.

One of the most successful programs run by GSP was the Hevea Cup Carnival and Wellness Expo which was launched on International Women’s Day in Port Moresby.

Tahina Booth in full cry against the Jillaroos.
Tahina Booth in full cry against the Jillaroos. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

The idea was to connect people in PNG with specialist Non-Governmental Organisations that promote health and well-being.

A total of 24 teams competed - 12 men’s teams and 12 women’s teams - while 20 NGOs were also invited to host stalls. 

When Tahina arrived at 6.30am to begin setting up, there was a group of 200 women waiting to enter. They were all waiting to hear from Marie Stopes about cervical cancer screenings.

"In Papua New Guinea we need to be engaging more with sporting events to deliver health initiatives," Tahina said.

"My goal is for the Hevea Cup to be rolled out nationally, because it is in the rural communities that we have the greatest power to effect change."

You can see that change in rugby league particularly, which is Papua New Guinea’s national sport.

Tahina has been part of the Papua New Guinea Orchids since their second year.

After the Orchids hosted the Jillaroos in 2018, one of Tahina's team-mates told her she didn’t want to take part in a lap of honour because the last time they had played at home, a year earlier, people were spitting at them and throwing empty cans at them.

Tahina took that young woman’s hand to support her during the lap of honour. But instead of directing vitriol, people were applauding and asking for autographs.

All this in just 12 months. But Tahina recognises there is still plenty of work to do.

"Women can contribute to society in a meaningful way and I can have a role in changing people’s perceptions, especially in rural communities about the role women can play in developing our society for the better," she said.

Help is available 24/7 for anyone who has mental health issues by calling Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14

Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia provides 24/7 telephone and online crisis counselling for anyone - women and men - in Australia who has experienced or is at risk of sexual assault, family or domestic violence and their non offending supporters.