Western women's coach Jess Skinner to work with Prime Minister's XIII side in Fiji

MOVING UP: Newly-appointed Prime Minister's XIII assistant coach Jess Skinner and (inset) Western-based Australian representative Kaitlyn Phillips. MAIN PHOTO: BELINDA SOOLE
MOVING UP: Newly-appointed Prime Minister's XIII assistant coach Jess Skinner and (inset) Western-based Australian representative Kaitlyn Phillips. MAIN PHOTO: BELINDA SOOLE

Being a coach at the very top level of the game had always been the goal for Jess Skinner.

She just wasn't expecting to achieve it this quickly.

The Trangie-based women's rugby league mentor was shocked last week when she received a call saying she would be the assistant coach for the Australian women's Prime Minister's XIII side that tours Fiji next month.

It caps a rapid rise to the top for the head coach of the Western Rams women's side.

"It's not something I expected or thought possible. I'd always wanted to do it but maybe in five or 10 years," she said, before speaking about the chance to work alongside the best.

"There's so many great coaches around and this is just a great opportunity to learn.

"It's something else I can learn from and bring that back out west."

The role is something of a reward for Trangie-based Skinner and the entire western area as a whole.

Jillaroos coach Brad Donald and his team have been aware of the work Skinner and players in the region have been doing.

Skinner isn't the only proof of that, with Orange star Kaitlyn Phillips being named in the Australian side for the game in Fiji.

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While it may seem a rapid rise to the top for the coach and player, they're just part of a rapidly developing sport and have been rewarded for a huge amount of work.

"It was the start of 2018 when I started taking it more seriously," Skinner said of her coaching.

"We moved into the 13-a-side tackle game and I started to develop myself through training and keeping up-to-date with things."

As well as being the head coach of the Rams' women's league and league tag sides, Skinner is also the head coach of the Far West Academy of Sport league tag side, coached the Macquarie Raidettes in the 2019 Group 11 season, and runs the newly-launched Western Women's Rugby League Academy.

She's also spent time around the Jillaroos in the past year as part of an elite coaches development program.

"For me it's hugely educational," she said of being around the Jillaroos.

"I'm there with a pen and paper and my phone and I'm recording and taking photos.

"The staff are phenomenal professionals and really nurturing of all the development coaches.

"Going from club footy, there's a lot of gaps in my coaching but they're helping to fill it."

Skinner was particularly thrilled to see Phillips be named in the Australian side for the October 11 game in Fiji.

It's something else I can learn from and bring that back out west.

Jess Skinner

The former Group 10 representative has taken her game to a new level since linking with NSW Rugby League Harvey Norman Women's Premiership side Mounties earlier this year.

"She's done harder work than I have and rightfully deserves her position," Skinner said of the back-rower.

"She made the transition from tag to tackle to keep developing.

"It might seem quick but the game is growing quick and it's such a great time for women's sport."

Phillips elevation to the top is proof the system in the western area works and that is only getting stronger since the inception of the women's academy.

Western is one of three centres across Australia - the others are located in Sydney and Brisbane - currently running a women's academy, designed to help develop players skills to a level high enough to help boost the game's player pool.

Skinner is a driving force behind it, further strengthening an area which has developed NSWRL players like Phillips, Wellington's Rhianna Sutherland and Kandy Kennedy of Bathurst.

"We promised the girls we were creating a pathway and coaching them to be ready," Skinner said.

"To see it happening just gives more purpose to what we're doing."

Male and female Prime Minister's XIII sides will play against Fiji Prime Minister's teams on Friday, October 11 in Suva.

After that, Skinner will be back in the west for the 2019 Western Women's Rugby League (WWRL) season.

The WWRL will feature seniors, under 18s, under 15s, and under 13s this year.