Vanessa Foliaki and Karina Brown speak about reaction to kiss

Karina Brown and Vanessa Foliaki embraced at the end of the inaugural women's State of Origin match. Picture: NRL
Karina Brown and Vanessa Foliaki embraced at the end of the inaugural women's State of Origin match. Picture: NRL

The kiss between partners and rival footballers Vanessa Foliaki and Karina Brown after their State of Origin match last month has already become an iconic image, emblematic of the diversity and sportsmanship brought by the women's game – but the fuss made in the wake of its publication wasn't easy on the players.

Foliaki has now spoken out about the media attention on the pair's post-game display of affection, revealing the backlash along with her Tongan background made it tough.

Foliaki and Brown live together but are rugby league rivals – Brown plays for Queensland and former Aucklander Foliaki for New South Wales, though they have played together for the Australian national team, the Jillaroos.

They embraced after the women's Origin match in June, won by NSW, and the NRL posted the image on social media.

Both Foliaki and Brown were taken by surprise by the reaction to that posting.

"It was tough for me at the beginning. In my culture, that's not accepted," Brown told the PlayersVoice website.

"My family copped some backlash from the Tongan community. I didn't like that. But I think things have calmed down a lot now."

She said her parents needed time to take it all in. "They were a bit overwhelmed. So was I."

Foliaki and Brown said they had been a week apart with their respective teams before catching up at the end of the game.

"It happened then, though I don't remember that much about it. We kissed, which is a totally normal thing, and thought nothing of it," Foliaki told PlayersVoice.

"I probably just said, 'Good game, can't wait to see you after this'. It had been a long week apart.

"Everyone's entitled to their own opinion. But hopefully one day soon, two girls can kiss in a photo and it can be uploaded with no backlash. That would be awesome."

Brown said to see Foliaki after a week in which they barely spoke was very emotional.

"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."

Both told PlayersVoice they were pleased the majority of people who posted about the photo were supportive.

"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," said Brown.

The couple have been together since 2014.

The photo was shared by NRL and Women's Rugby League on Facebook with the caption "#OurWay", but generated a mixed response. Replying to one critic on Facebook, the NRL wrote: "Welcome to 2018... can't wait for you to join us!"

The NRL hit back against comments suggesting the NRL was "sexualising" the game by sharing the photo.

"If we can post a [photo] of Cooper Cronk and his wife Tara kissing, then we can share a photo of Karina Brown and Ness Foliaki sharing a moment too," the NRL wrote.

Foliaki moved to Australia eight years ago.

"It was always a dream to play for New Zealand, but since I moved here I got my opportunity and I want to keep playing for Australia," she told the Central Western Daily in 2015.

In the meantime, Brown is recovering from a broken jaw suffered in a match at the weekend.

She said she hopes to be playing for the Sydney Roosters when the inaugural NRL Women's Premiership begins in September.

This story 'It was tough': League-playing partners on reaction to post-match kiss first appeared on Daily Liberal.