Try time for Werner after bobsleigh switch
Tackling a new challenge

Try time for Werner after bobsleigh switch

After spending seven consecutive Australian summers in the northern hemisphere representing Australia in women's bobsleigh, Jewish Sydneysider Ashleigh Werner has put her sliding sports career on ice for one season. Last weekend, she made her debut for the Wests Tigers women's rugby league team.

Ashleigh Werner on the charge for the Wests Tigers versus the Cronulla Sharks last Saturday. 
Photo: PureLight Photography
Ashleigh Werner on the charge for the Wests Tigers versus the Cronulla Sharks last Saturday. Photo: PureLight Photography

INSTEAD of training and competing on ice in below-zero temperatures in Europe and America at this time of year, as she has done since 2016, Australian women’s bobsleigh squad member Ashleigh Werner is tackling Sydney’s late summer heat and humidity as a rugby league player for the Wests Tigers – the defending NSW Rugby League (NSWRL) Women’s Premiership titleholders.

“It’s obviously been such a switch!” Ashleigh Werner told The AJN on Tuesday after playing in round one last Saturday against the Cronulla Sharks in 32 degree heat, “but I’m absolutely loving it, and it has reignited my passion and love for sport.

“Everyone who knows me knows that I love challenges.”

After much thought and soul-searching, Werner made the difficult decision to take this international bobsleigh season off, due to a combination of a lack of funding for her sport, and experiencing the pain of missing out on qualifying for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, due to the misfortune of catching COVID at the worst possible time.

But she is embracing the extra time at home now to refocus on her work, herself, and new opportunities as an elite athlete.

“What happened towards the end of last year forced me to sit down and think about what’s next,” Werner, 30, said.

“I realised I’d put, blindly, everything into bobsleigh for the last seven years, mentally, physically and financially – and I don’t regret any of that at all – but I came to the decision that I needed a bobsleigh season off.

“I actually have a team sport background, I’d played touch rep footy as a junior, and rugby 7s, and last played a rugby league match in 2018 for the North Sydney Bears.

“I missed my footy, and a team environment, so I thought I’d have another crack.

“The opportunity with the Wests Tigers came about suddenly in November, and I can’t thank this incredible team enough for welcoming me.

“Running onto the field last Saturday for my first match for the Tigers felt amazing, and it’s driven me to push myself.

“The coaches and facilities here are incredible, the playing group is so supportive, and all the training is organised for you.”

Ashleigh Werner scoring a try during Wests Tigers women’s 2023 pre-season training. Photo: Dan Coppel

Her commitment and performance at training was rewarded by Tigers women’s head coach Adel Hage, who selected her to start in round one.

She played a full game, on the wing and in the centres, in the Tigers’ 18-30 loss at Campbelltown Stadium to the Sharks, whom they beat in last year’s decider.

“The team has a new line-up, so for a round one game it was a great hit-out for us, even though we didn’t get the result we wanted,” Werner said.

“The beauty about footy is you learn from that, and you can look forward to another game the next week.”

The NSWRL women’s premiership is 11 rounds this season followed by finals. It has expanded from eight to 11 teams, and the Wests Tigers have just been upgraded to NRLW status, which is timely news for Werner.

“The pathways system at the Tigers is excellent, and now that I’m playing footy again, I do have some goals,” Werner said.

“For me, just having the opportunity to contribute to the Tigers in their premiership defence is a goal, but I’d also love to play in the NRLW, and make playing State of Origin footy a goal.”

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