What it means to be a real world Rugby League WAG!
“Switching between the Brownlow medal & the Dally M coverage – so much talk about the WAGs & what they are wearing. So, before the fashion police have their say on the girls, please just remember they are women supporting their husbands at a work function. Most of them only dress up once or twice a year. They don’t live glamorous lifestyles. They aren’t provided gowns by designers. Most of the time they privately live their lives as mums or working women.”
This is what Narelle Walters posted on her Facebook page on the back of the mad Monday double-header football awards night.
Who, some may ask, is Narelle Walters?
Well Narelle is someone who knows more than most what it means to be a WAG.
She was a WAG before there was an acronym for WAGs (wives and girlfriends).
Narelle, who would easily look comfortable on a red carpet, is the wife of assistant Brisbane Broncos coach and former QLD State of Origin and Australian Rugby League champion, Kevin Walters.
But of course she is much more than that, just like the current crop of wives and girlfriends she is defending online.
Narelle is a former elite sportswoman herself, who rowed at National Championships and was part of the 1993 Queensland Youth Eight, with aspirations of selection in an Australian Olympic team.
The same year her now husband was winning his second premiership flag with the Broncos.
By then he’d already claimed a couple including the Broncos’ first NRL title in 1992 and with Canberra in 1989.
Narelle worked as a dental nurse to fund her athletic career and put herself through university and has since graduated with a law degree.
She’s a mother to Kevin’s youngest two children, Harry and Ava and stepmum to the older three boys, Jack, Billy and Jett from his first marriage to Kim, who sadly died from breast cancer in early 1998.
For the best part of two decades, she has lived, loved, loathed, endured and enjoyed all of the highs and lows of being what is now known as a WAG and it’s not a clear-cut glamorous world portrayed on television at awards nights and on social media.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying, ‘oh the poor WAGS’, because there are some who are turning their husband’s success into their own careers and power to those women, and I’m all for that. It’s a choice,” Narelle said.
“Like everyone I like looking at the fashion, it’s human and the girls look beautiful and it’s nice to pay attention but what I don’t like is the commentary and the negative comments about body shape or what they look like, or how physically attractive they are. It’s mean,” she said.
“Social media has created an entirely new mutation, evolution of WAG.
“When I was what you’d call a WAG, when Kevin was playing, we were the women beside our husbands, we were the wives or girlfriends, we went to the games with the kids, and were at every game, but it didn’t feel like it was about us. There were some perks but there wasn’t that pressure.
“Now, the celebrated WAGS are usually the wives of marquee players with enormous contracts, and you can’t shy away from that, but the average player would have an average income, and it is not always easy.”
Narelle Walters can probably caution modern WAGS about the challenges of that better than anyway else.
She was there in 1998 when the Broncos won their third NRL title (fourth if you count the SuperLeague in1997) as her relationship with Kevin was just starting to blossom after his wife passed away earlier that year. (Could you imagine if there was social media trolls back then).
Again the highs when her yet-to-be husband captained the Broncos to another premiership in 2000 before a snap two month playing stint in England before retiring.
When Kevin began his coaching career in Toowoomba he steered the Clydesdales to a premiership in the Qld Cup, then returned to the Broncos as Wayne Bennett’s assistant coach for the next few years.
At the end of 2005, the Walters family was blind-sided when Kevin was sacked from the Broncos and Narelle says the next year was tough.
“It was a big shock,” she said.
“We had little income, Kevin had a carpenter’s trade so he worked with his brother Brett who is a builder and we had an investment in a car-wash chain so he worked there as well.
“We had to get back on the horse, but it was hard and thankfully a few media jobs eventuated.”
Since then, Kevin has been a constant on the rugby league coaching circuit with contracts in France, Melbourne and Newcastle before returning home at the beginning of the year.
This is what Narelle posted on Facebook after Brisbane secured the first spot in the 2015 Grand Final.
“As you all know footy has enabled us to move our family around the world & interstate. We spent 2 years in France & 18 months in Melbourne. However, we’ve also lived apart for the best part of 3 years. So, after 10 footy seasons, I am so happy to see Kevin back at the club he loves & wearing the Broncos club colours. It’s also a pleasure & a privilege to once again, genuinely, call myself a Broncos fan. Let’s go Broncos!”
“There have been a lot of sacrifices and there’s been a lot of shifts and changes and twists and turns,” Narelle concedes and knows some of the current WAGS and their families will go or have gone through similar tough patches.
“There isn’t a lot of security and you don’t know what’s next, especially coaching, one minute you are part of something and it is part of your identity,” she said.
“In 2005 a lot of it stopped for Kevin, and you realise, well I think in hindsight, it made Kevin a better coach and even more, a better person.”
“I don’t think the highs are as high or the lows are as low when you are a coach, but I think the stakes are higher,” she said.
But Narelle is counting the year 2015, no matter the stakes, as a high.
Her family is together, her husband is home and there are not many who have achieved what he has in his sport and they have together.
Kevin Walters is a rare breed of rugby league man who has won premierships both as a player and as a coach.
And when the Broncos face-off for a fifth grand final win in an historic match-up against their Queensland counterparts the Townsville Cowboys, Narelle Walters will have done just as many of the hard yards as her husband, without any fanfare or designer frock.
Although look out for her in the stands in Sydney, she might just wag it up in a pair of leopard prints heels that will easily make a best-dressed list.