Isabelle Kelly only pulled on the Jillaroos jersey for the first time this year, but plays like she’s owned it from birth.
Never one to take an opportunity like this for granted, Kelly won the Auckland Nines triple header with Australia earlier in the year and played a one-off test against New Zealand in her first official international, but says that she runs out each game as if she’s debuting all over again.
National pride oozes out of the destructive centre both with the ball in hand and off the field, and there’s no doubt she’s living out her dream as the Jillaroos fight for the World Cup.
“It’s still very exciting for me every time I put that jersey on,” Kelly says.
“I want to always go out and give it my all instead of thinking that it’s just another time I’m putting the jersey on.
“I think every time is a great time and it’s something that I don’t take for granted because you never really know when it’s going to be your last jersey.”
There’s anxiety and nerves for any player in every sport when pulling on a representative jersey for the first time.
It was no different for Kelly earlier in the year, but now she feels comfortable about the role she plays in the side both on and off the field amongst the tight-knit group.
There is no NSW and Queensland separation in this Australian family, highlighted by a week on the Gold Coast to begin camp that had a happy medium of intense training, team bonding, and plenty of laughs.
“It’s been wicked, it’s honestly been the best vibe, I wish it was all year around,” Kelly says of the ongoing Jillaroos camp.
“We have such a good culture in the group and everyone is just so privileged to wear the green and gold jersey it doesn’t really matter what number you are.
“It’s great having played with [the NSW] girls before, but the Queensland girls are awesome and they’re just like family.
“We’ve mixed really well with NSW and Queensland, it doesn’t feel like there is a separation because we’re all really close.”
That tight bond between the Jillaroos was on show for everyone to see against the Cook Islands, as they produced a near-perfect first half and did a mountain of defensive work at the back-end of the game.
Whilst impressive in the whole game, they weren’t able to match the first half quality in the second – possibly due to heavy rain – which could be a unique positive for Australia to give them some talking points as they prepare for England on Sunday.
“The girls have bonded really well and you could see that out on the field when we had to keep defending those constant sets, we were all there for each other,” a proud Kelly says.
“There was a few dropped balls [in the second half], it was wet which didn’t help, but those are the little one things we need to work on and tidy up before we verse England.
“I think we stuck to our game plan up the middle and we definitely defended our hearts off, we didn’t want to let anyone through and we strive for that the best that we can.”
Rugby League runs in the bloodline for Kelly, who incredibly only took up the game three years ago.
Her brother Dylan plays in the Intrust Super Cup, while her father played in England in the 1980s.
She has represented NSW in three interstate challenges since, and is now enjoying life at the highest level.
“It feels like I’ve been playing for longer, it’s a sport that I love and grew up watching my brother and dad play,” Kelly says.
“It’s always been in the family, Rugby League was just for me and when I started playing, I loved it.
“I haven’t looked back at any other sport.”