Skip to main content Skip to main navigation
Skip to access and inclusion page Skip to search input

Two minutes with NRLW community champ Tahlulah Tillett

01:30pm May 29 2024

Tahlulah Tillett has been through some tough times in a rugby league career that began as a nine-year old running out for the Cairns Kangaroos. 

The North Queensland Cowboys halfback endured four serious knee injuries between 2017 and 2020, setbacks that might have proved career-ending were it not for Tillett’s resilience, inner strength, and sheer love of the game. 

“I was very fortunate with the support of my family, friends, teammates and coaches that I was able to bounce back on the other side,” she tells Wire in an interview.

The support of her local community provided a refuge for Tillett in those times when she wasn’t able to run out on the field, and only reinforced her commitment to give back whenever she can. 

Tillett won the NRL Community Award Veronica White Medal in 2023, which recognises the outstanding contribution of female rugby league players to their local community and beyond. The award, which is presented by Westpac, has begun its search for the 2024 winner.

While Tillett grew up in Cairns, she’s a proud Torres Strait Islander woman with her family originally coming from Moa Island north of Cape York. She was immersed in rugby league from a young age, her father Stephen playing for the Cowboys when they started up in 1995. 

“North Queensland is a very big rugby league community and playing football was all I ever wanted to do as a young girl,” she says. 

As her profile grew as one of the stars of the women’s game, so did her desire to be an influence for good in her local community. 

Tillett runs programs in local schools which promote the benefits of regular school attendance and a healthy lifestyle, while she’s also keen to inspire young girls to pursue a future career in rugby league. 

“The number of girls that you see running around at that junior grassroots level is incredible. It’s probably the best I've ever seen in terms of female participation, so we're definitely on the right track.”

She credits Westpac for helping to grow the sport with its ground-breaking sponsorship which is spread equally across the men’s and women’s game. 

“Westpac have been incredible. They're a big reason as to why we are seeing the growth and the change in our women's game.”

Head of Sponsorship at Westpac Group, Pat Cunningham, says the opportunity to invest in women’s sport was one of the key motivations behind the sponsorship.

As a business, we've really been championing inclusion and diversity and greater participation for females in sport for quite some time,” Cunningham says. 

“Our hope is to see more women involved in all aspects of rugby league, not only in participation but getting more involved in running the game and being an active part of the sport,” he says.

This year, the women’s State of Origin is being played over a three-match series for the first time, marking an important step in the game’s development. 

Most of the women representing New South Wales and Queensland began their journey in grassroots junior rugby in their local community. And for Tillett, it’s the character of her own community that has helped to nurture her resilience and never-say-die attitude.  

“In North Queensland, the main value is hard work. We’re very hard-working people,” she says. “We've also been through a lot with natural disasters and that sort of stuff and we always bounce back. That is the true representation of who we are as North Queensland people.”

Tillett has just been appointed a Westpac Ambassador in recognition of her role model status in women’s rugby league and her local community.

For more information and how you can nominate your local rugby league hero visit NRL Community Awards. Nominations are open until June 9. 

James Thornhill was appointed as editor of Westpac Wire in May 2022. Prior to joining the bank, he was a business and financial journalist with more than two decades of experience with international newswires. Most recently, he was a resources correspondent for Bloomberg, covering the mining and energy sectors, and previously reported on a broad range of topics from economics and politics to currency and bond markets. Originally from the UK, he’s had stints working in London, New York and Singapore, but is now happily settled in Sydney.

Sarah Williamson is a video producer for Westpac Wire. Sarah joined the team in 2024 bringing with her nearly a decade of experience across all aspects of video production. She's worked with high profile companies including Canva and Lego.

Browse topics