Mending Warrior gets big lift from team-mates
Past injuries have led Jules Newman to drink, but the rugby-to-league convert has bounced back from her latest knee surgery with a little help from her Warriors friends.
Three weeks after major knee surgery, the average athlete may be able to bend their knee a little.
Kiwi Fern Jules Newman, on the other hand, was on her way up Mount Maunganui – even though her knee was “the size of a bowling ball”.
But don’t be concerned. Her trek to the top of Mauao in February was on the backs of her New Zealand Warriors team-mates. And they did it to let her know she wasn’t alone in her rehabilitation journey.
Newman had surgery on the knee in January after rupturing her anterior cruciate ligament - for a fifth time - in a tackle playing rugby sevens in the 2019 off-season.
Instead of staying home and preparing to test how far she could move the knee, Newman was travelling around the North Island as part of the Warriors’ roadshow with a group of players including Georgia Hale, Krystal Rota and Lorina Papali’i.
Not wanting to leave the 73kg centre on her own at the base of the Mount, Hale - the Young New Zealander of the Year - and league legend Papali’i insisted on carrying Newman up with them.
Newman was worried the activity could cause further damage to her knee - or even worse, injure her teammates. So she resisted the offer at first. But Hale and Papali’i persisted.
“My knee was the size of a bowling ball at the time, but they were adamant on carrying me. Georgia said I needed to know that I wasn’t on my own throughout this rehab journey,” Newman says.
“By lifting me up and down that bloody mountain, it was their way of showing that they were supporting me every step of the way.”
It wasn’t just the path providing twists and turns up to the summit.
“It got to the point where they were starting to bicker about whose turn it was to carry me because they felt the other was holding me for too long,” laughs 31-year-old Newman, who only switched from rugby union to league early last year.
To add to the comedic moment, Hale piped up just before reaching the picturesque mountain top that she always dreamt of holding someone in a fireman's carry.
“I just said ‘Honestly whatever floats your boat mate. At this stage we can do whatever you want’,” says Newman.
And so, from a piggy-back position, Hale swung Newman over her shoulders and hauled her that way until they reached the top. All up, the adventure took just over 45 minutes.
“It was insane,” Newman laughs. “It just blew me away, even to this day. If you’re piggybacking a kid, they eventually get heavy, and then there’s me - a full-grown adult being deadweight on my team-mates’ backs.”
After that unforgettable expedition, there was one more roadshow stop in Whitianga, before Newman – who’s also a bit of a business entrepreneur - could continue her rehab journey back in Auckland.
Newman took the league world by storm last year.
The 2018 North Harbour player of the year in rugby’s Farah Palmer Cup competition decided to leave the comfort of rugby and the Black Ferns environment for a shot at league.
It proved to be just the shift she needed.
Hale had got in her ear on a van trip to the 2018 national sevens tournament in Tauranga, encouraging her to come and have a go at an open trial for the Warriors women’s squad for the second season of the NRLW competition.
Newman turned up, and her athleticism and professionalism impressed the Warriors selectors who recalled her for another two sessions. Her first real league game was the Warriors' opening game of the 2019 NRLW season - a win over the Sydney Roosters.
Newman showed enough determination and skill to secure a contract with the New Zealand franchise, and was then selected for the Kiwi Ferns (making her test debut against Australia’s Jillaroos in October).
“I was scared and excited on debut because I honestly didn’t know what I was doing. My rugby league journey went from zero to 100 real quick, so I just had to back myself,” she says.
As speedily as she made an impact on the league field, the reality of another big injury halted her momentum.
Her ruptured ACL was a major roadblock after a massive debut year, which ended on a high with the Kiwi Ferns beating Australia for the inaugural World Cup nines title.
The injury was confirmed five weeks after the incident on the sevens field, when Newman mentioned the discomfort in her knee to the Kiwi Ferns physio.
Her rehab has been quicker than the average person. But she is now making up for lost time, putting everything into reaching her goals. Short-term, it’s playing in the NRLW again (no decisions have been made yet around whether the competition goes ahead or not) and long-term, it’s making the end-of-year Kiwi Ferns test against the Jillaroos.
That would be a solid lead-in to the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England.
Speaking from experience, Newman says the toughest part of rehab is the grieving process.
“I got angry and upset, and started questioning my identity without sport when I got the results back. I didn’t slip into depression, like a lot of athletes tend to do, but I knew I had to start a plan to get back on track as soon as possible,” she says.
It’s a stark difference mentally to her first three ACL injuries. In those cases, Newman masked her emotions with drinking.
“I didn’t understand how to cope with being taken off the field and I don’t think players understand their own emotional intelligence needed to help them through those periods,” she says.
“Players need to understand the emotional rollercoaster is normal, but they also need to be aware not to live in it. Don’t set up camp in the anger and bitterness stage, because it doesn’t get you anywhere faster and it slows down the healing process.”
Newman also believes the people you choose to surround yourself with will make or break you in the recovery process. Her Crossfit Kia Maia gym on Auckland’s North Shore, New Zealand Rugby League, and Warriors players Hale and Rota, have played a major role in her comeback.
“Georgia and Krystal have eased the burden by allowing me to offload my vulnerabilities without any judgement,” Newman says.
Rota also opened up her home to Newman for the first week following her operation. Almost straight after surgery, Newman discharged herself from hospital so Rota could drive her to Cambridge to attend a Kiwi Ferns camp.
Newman credits her drive and motivation to a combination of her upbringing, life experience and the women in her whānau.
“I spend the majority of my time with mum’s side of the family who have a strong female presence,” says Newman, who comes from Ngāti Raukawa, the same iwi as dual international Honey Hireme-Smiler.
“I look at the females in my family, like my grandmother, and they’ve always been fighters. They’ve fought for everything they have. They fight for us and that’s what I want to carry on - not just for my future kids, but for the younger generation coming through, especially young girls.”
It was one of these strong wahine who offered Newman a job managing her IT business five years ago.
“My aunty wanted me to work for her when I got back to Auckland from an OE in Kenya. I only had 15 bucks to my name, so I needed the money,” says Newman.
Although Newman knew little about IT, her aunt gave her a valuable piece of advice.
“She said I’d either sink or swim. So if I try something new now, I just jump in the deep end and give it a go. How am I supposed to know what I am capable of if I don't try?” she says. Just as she did when trialling for the Warriors.
Most of the decisions in Newman’s life have been spontaneous - including the idea to study psychology. Lying in bed one night, she logged into Massey University and enrolled – she’d always been fascinated by human behaviour.
She now puts her psychology degree to good use a cultural strategist with the IT firm, “looking at user behaviours within organisations in order to better implement technology”.
Her latest jump in the deep end is launching a business with her aunt - on top of her league and work commitments.
The business concept is similar to Airbnb, but with shared working spaces.
“Our thing is we really care about people,” Newman says. “It's not just about helping ourselves and our family members, but helping our community - helping New Zealanders as a whole to prosper.”