Meet the California-born speedster who won NRL’s Vegas combine and a shot in Australia

It was only by chance that Marcaya Bailous started playing rugby league at all, but now she’s played at international level for the USA and also won the chance to play in Australia.

When you first speak with USA women’s rugby league star Marcaya Bailous, you are instantly drawn to her zest for life.

The Californian born speedster, recently made global headlines being one of two women who were crowned winners of the inaugural NRL Combine tournament in Las Vegas in March.

Bailous and Canadian international Megan Pakulis, set the tone that saw both girls not only take out the prestige prize of the NRL Combine tournament, but they were given the chance of a lifetime when they were both flown to Australia as guests of the NRL.

Both Bailous and Pakulis were also rewarded with the chance to compete in the Harvey Norman Women’s Championship on the Gold Coast, with Bailous donning the jersey of the Indigenous side, The First Nations Gems.

But things could have worked out differently for Bailous whose background involved competition basketball.

“Growing up, I was always interested in basketball and played a lot of it at high school.

“I’ve always been pretty athletic and thought it was the right sport for me as I was able to run around on the court whilst remaining active.

“Then, a friend of mine at high school who played rugby, asked if I was interested in joining her in playing as well.

“I knew nothing about rugby, other than they used a different ball and there was some tackling involved.

“A few practice sessions under my belt, I was then ready to play my first ever game and instantly fell in love with the sport.

“Although rugby union is vastly different from rugby league, little did I know that the latter game, was going to change my life forever.”

Bailous who has been a sensation in rugby 7’s, credits her rugby union background in making the easy transition into rugby league, which has seen the fitness fanatic represent the USA against Canada and Jamaica.

“I tasted my first game of rugby league in the London 9’s competition and thought, how good is this?

“I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in rugby league and everything just started to fall into place when I made my international debut for the USA.

“I’ve never looked back.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that rugby league would take me this far in my sporting career, but here we are in 2024 and I have already played on opposite sides of the globe.”

Whilst Bailous may be a late bloomer to the game of rugby league, her desire to continue learning with a vision of one day playing in the NRLW competition in Australia, is enough for her to keep working hard.

“Part of taking out the NRL Combine, was winning a trip to Australia which included visiting many Australian clubs including the Gold Coast Titans, Canberra and the Brisbane Broncos, to see how these NRL clubs operated.

“It was a real eye opener in regard to training and what’s actually required to play in the NRLW.

“I have so much respect for the Australian girls who just make playing rugby league look so easy.

“To be able to play against some of these girls in the Women’s championships on the Gold Coast, just proved my point that Aussie girls are next level.”

Whilst Bailous sings the praises of Australian women’s rugby league, her own athleticism is quite astonishing.

Not only can the USA international bench press 75kg, but she eclipsed her personal best times at both the NRL Combine competition and at a Brisbane Broncos training session.

“I ended up being the fastest female at the NRL Combine sprints clocking in at 3.8 sec over 20m. 

“Then, when I was at the Brisbane Broncos, I completed the 1.25km run in just under five minutes, so they were two feathers in the cap that I was super proud of achieving.”

It was a superhuman effort from Bailous at the NRL Combine considering that only two days earlier, was running around in the NRL Vegas 9’s competition playing in six matches.

Whilst the NRL Combine tested athletes on their skill levels with both the ball and defensive moves, the athletes were also tested on track and field events.

“I actually had to apply online via the NRL to enter the Combine competition and thought I might as well just give it a go.

“When I got an email back from the NRL to say that I had been successful, I couldn’t believe it. I was over the moon!

“Little did I know that a few doors were going to open for me after the NRL Combine with the trip to Australia being the icing on the cake.”

Bailous, who by day is a trained veterinary nurse, was not only a smash hit in Australia, but it was her time playing with the First Nations Gems that had her seeing firsthand, just how much the Australian girls are immersed in their indigenous culture.

“Something I really admire about the Indigenous Australians is that they really do love and are content with the skin that they play in.

“They are proud of their heritage, and you can see that it cascades onto the field when they are wearing the jersey that represents their people. Those things are important.

“Having just lost my mother, my heritage is also important to me as well.

“She would have been happy to see me representing our bloodline.”

Whilst Bailous nestles back into her daily life in Ohio, her words for any young female in giving rugby league a try, is infectious to say the least.

“No dream is too big in this world. You just have to keep moving forward and back yourself all whilst saying that you’re going to make it, no matter what life throws at you.

“It’s the hours of training behind the scenes that nobody sees that sets athletes apart.

“But, if you remain consistent and motivated, then nothing should stand in your way in chasing your own dreams.”

First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 496 (May 2024)

Click here to subscribe to the print edition of Rugby League World

Click here for the digital edition available from to read on your computer, tablet or smartphone