You want to meet a stubborn footballer? Then let me introduce you to Shontelle Stowers.
While the New Zealand-born Stowers had a slow burn to reach the heights of rugby union, it’s been a quick flame igniting her rise in rugby league.
Throw in an ACL tear, broken wrist, hamstring muscle torn off the bone, and you wonder why she put herself all through that to keep returning to studded shoes.
But the perseverance, the high-pain tolerance – the stubbornness – have all culminated in Stowers being named in the NSW Blues 2019 Holden Women’s State of Origin team.
Her story has its climax in the June 21 showdown with Queensland at North Sydney Oval.
But its beginnings are in the backyard at Tokoroa with her two older brothers, near Rotorua on NZ’s north island.
“I just wanted to join my brothers playing footy in the backyard. I just wanted to be amongst it – contact and all,” she told NRL.com. “I just naturally picked up the passing, the weaving, the dodging.”
That went on from the age of nine years, until 14. At high school she began playing touch footy and made representative teams in the Waikato region. Stowers was also proficient in basketball and netball and Rugby Sevens teams.
She moved to Australia at age 20, mainly as her brothers were now living in the Sydney area.
“And I thought there would be more opportunities for my sport here,” said Stowers, now 32.
She linked up with the Engadine Lions rugby team.
She made the Wallaroos squad.
“But because I played for New Zealand teams prior, and I was born in New Zealand, I had to sit out a three-year waiting period.”
Stowers did finally play for Australia in the Hong Kong Sevens in 2011. But on the cusp of making the 15-woman team Stowers tore her anterior cruciate ligament in 2014.
“I had to wait again, this time to recover… but I was able to get back to representative footy in 2016. I actually got to play with the Wallaroos against the Black Ferns at Eden Park.”
The code swap came about because Stowers was finding rugby too slow and too structured. She liked the freedom to run, change angles, pick up the pace, think quickly on her feet.
“A Nines opportunity came about with the Sharks in league because my old Sevens coach Jason Stanton became the coach of the Sharks. He appreciated the way I liked to play and encouraged me to come over and give the Nines a try.”
Her very first Nines game with the Sharks, she tore her hamstring so badly, it pulled free off the top of the calf muscle where they both attach to the leg bone.
“My surgeon said he’d never seen that kind of tear before.”
But Stowers rehabbed that injury and started the journey back to full fitness once again.
“At the same time, one of my best friends NIta Maynard changed with me to league so that all made it so much better,” Stowers said,
“We debuted for the Sharks together in 2017, we debuted for the NRLW with the Roosters together in 2018, we played in the National Championships last year.
“But unfortunately leading up to Origin last year, I broke my left wrist playing with NSW City. I got it fixed but then after the WNRL season, I had it scanned and found it was still broken. I’d played through the season with it like that.
“So I had to take more time off and let my body heal properly this time.
“When I came back Nita and I decided to leave the Sharks and go to the North Sydney Bears.”
And from the Bears den, Stowers was picked for NSW City in 2019, showing sparkling form in last week’s National Championships – at centre.
But yesterday she was named as one of the seven debutantes for the NSW Blues in the second row.
“I’ve never actually played back row. My preferred position is centre, and I can play left or right side, so Andy (coach Andrew Patmore) must have a game plan in mind. I can’t wait to find out what that is.
“I’ve been working on my mobility and strength so maybe he’s seeing something I haven’t quite yet.