JOHANNESBURG – Two of Banyana Banyana stars, Refiloe Jane and Rhoda Mulaudzi, have not only shared a 13-year friendship but are hoping their experience at being part of the Australian Women’s Premier League will take the South African team to great heights at the World Cup in France in June and July.
Both became the first South Africans to play in Australia after they had secured themselves a contract with Canberra United.
Mulaudzi has a fascinating background. Born in Venda, the striker (and grand-daughter to a Venda king) have both been included in Banyana team to play in the Cypress Cup late in February before they aim their sights at the World Cup.
Jane admits her best friend has paved the way for her on and off the soccer pitch over the years.
So, when it came to paying for her friend’s flight out to Australia to trial for the W-League she didn’t think twice.
The South African sports duo started their friendship when Mulaudzi selected Jane as her vice-captain back in 2006.
From there, Jane followed Mulaudzi to several other clubs, and later to study at Vaal University.
But their big break came when Mulaudzi led them onto the international stage, to sign their first professional contracts with Canberra United.
“When I first came here, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Mulaudzi said. “But we’ve learnt a lot. The supporters and our teammates here have been very welcoming.”
Jane said having one another made settling into life in Australia a breeze. But the road to their international success wasn’t easy – or conventional.
Mulaudzi forfeited her royal duties as a princess to pursue her football career.
“At the time my mum was not impressed,” she said.
“But my dad – he’s a football person. He just said, “Whatever you decide, I’ll support you all the way. Because I had my own father’s blessing, I had more confidence. I thought okay this is what I want, and I’m going to continue, and nobody is going to stop me.”
The striker said her story is far from a fairytale, and admitted she was close to giving up the game last year, when she was approached by a “crazy fan” from her province who “loves women’s football.”
He urged Mulaudzi and Jane to try their luck in the Australian W-League and sent their YouTube highlights to Canberra United coach Heather Garriock to get the ball rolling.
“I decided it would be great for both of them to come out to Australia and trial,” Garriock said. “We had nothing to lose, and I’m sure they had nothing to lose.”
But despite securing their pre-season trial spots, the pair had to scrape funds together for visas, meals and flights out to Australia.
With just four days to go, and no tickets booked, Jane and another teammate ended up taking their own savings to pay for Mulaudzi’s fair.
“I knew how important this way for Rhoda,” she said. “She’s always wanted to play overseas, and it was an opportunity. What’s the worst that could have happened? At the end of the day, it’s just money.”
The gesture ended up paying off, with the duo offered dual contracts as the first South African players in the league. They’re hoping their contribution will blaze a trail for other athletes from their country.
“I think it’s time now for teams all over the world to watch South African players,” Mulaudzi said. “I think we’re going to open doors for others, and I believe 99 percent of those who play for the national team, have the ability to play overseas.”
With Canberra United out of the finals, Jane and Mulaudzi can now look ahead to represent their country in the World Cup.
They’re also open to signing with another international team for the off-season, if the opportunity presents itself.
When asked about returning to don the green for Canberra United next season, two large smiles crack across their faces.
“Given the opportunity to come back, we definitely would. We’ve never been exposed to anything like this, and we’ve gained so much experience.”
African News Agency (ANA)