Touching truth behind iconic Origin kiss
RUGBY league star couple Karina Brown and Vanessa Foliaki have opened up on the kiss that caused a stir after the women's Origin clash last month.
A photo of Brown, who captains Queensland, and Foliaki, who plays for NSW, kissing each other after full-time was posted to the NRL's social media accounts after the Blues' win over the Maroons in June.
The image was met with disdain from some fans, one claiming it was a "bad move" by the NRL. The NRL responded with: "Welcome to 2018 … can't wait for you to join us!"
Another person claimed the NRL was "already sexualising the women's league" and that it was "one step forward, three steps back".
The NRL replied: "If we can post a photo of (Roosters star) Cooper Cronk and his wife Tara kissing, then we can share a photo of Karina Brown and Ness Foliaki sharing a moment too."
Among the negative feedback there was also plenty of support for Brown and Foliaki, who have addressed why their kiss was so special and what happened in the aftermath.
Used to seeing each other everyday, the pair were separated for a week as they spent time in camp preparing with their respective teams, and the emotion of seeing each other after that time apart came spilling out on the field.
Brown said the "hatred" that exists between opposing players at Origin time took its toll, but that was replaced with pure joy at the end of the clash.
"I live with Vanessa, so I see her every single day and kiss her every single day," Brown wrote in a column for Players Voice. "Seven days without her - me in Queensland camp, her with NSW - was a long time.
"It's funny, because that's just a normal moment for Ness and I, and for our friends and family. I feel really fortunate to have been born in a time where I could do that; be myself and not have to worry about who was watching me. I just felt comfortable kissing my girlfriend.
"Origin is a tough, emotional time for us. We're both passionate about our states and we take it very seriously. I was Queensland captain this year.
"To barely speak for a whole week, to have nearly a hatred for each other - purely in terms of the state we're playing for - it takes a toll.
"So, to finally see her afterwards was very emotional. I was really proud of her achievement, winning the first official women's State of Origin game, even though it came at my side's expense. It's a funny set of feelings to process."
Brown said she hopes there comes a time when an image like the one of her kissing Foliaki doesn't spark a reaction because it's considered normal.
"I think it was good for the world to see, to show how far we've come as a society. Yet also to show that we've still got some way to go. Not all the feedback was positive," she wrote.
"For some people, it's still a shock. I guess the more we can get it out there, that it's OK to be who you are, it won't be a shock anymore. It'll just be normal. It is normal.
"I look forward to the day where my moment with Vanessa is just a regular post-match photo. And I don't think we're far off it."
Brown said her mum was very accepting when she told her she was gay a decade ago, but Foliaki's Tongan family has had a tougher time accepting her sexuality. The NSW star said her parents are still "in the process of trying to be OK with it".
When the image of the kiss came out, Foliaki was "shocked" because same sex relationships aren't accepted in Tongan culture. It meant, sadly, her family was on the receiving end of a negative backlash from some parts of the Tongan community.
"It was tough for me at the beginning. In my culture, that's not accepted," Foliaki wrote for Players Voice. "My family copped some backlash from the Tongan community. I didn't like that. But I think things have calmed down a lot now.
"Mum and dad just said that they needed time to take it all in. It was hard for them, when no one was expecting the photo and then suddenly it was just out there for everyone to see. They were a bit overwhelmed. So was I."
Foliaki said she didn't think anything of the kiss at the time because it's such a normal thing for her and Brown, but revealed how happy she was to receive messages of support from people who were inspired by the emotional display.
"We were getting messages from random people who wrote to us and said, 'We've been going through the same thing and it's nice to see athletes at your level come out and say that it's OK'. It's helped a lot of people, which is good. That's what we want to do," Foliaki wrote.
"If a photo can help you be yourself and come out to your parents, then we've done our job. I didn't realise how many people it had touched, and how many people there are out there who are still unable to come out to their parents - or anybody.
"It was nice to hear from them and to give them hope."