When fellow Novocastrian star Isabelle Kelly crashed over just five minutes ahead of the full-time whistle to seal New South Wales’ 16-10 State of Origin victory, young rugby league hopeful Olivia Kernick was watching on from the crowd of nearly 7,000.
Kernick had just one thought in her mind as she watched the spectacle play out at North Sydney Oval in June last year – “This would be pretty cool to play in.”
A year later the Newcastle Knights star, who has played a key role in guiding her team to two consecutive Tarsha Gale Cup grand finals, is a month away from pulling on the sky blue of her state in the Under 18’s curtain raiser on Friday, June 21.
“It’s just so unexpected, and kind of weird,” Kernick admitted to the Chronicle after she was named in the 25-player squad. “I’ve watched the boys play Origin for so long, and now the girls are getting it too, and I haven’t really wrapped my head around it just yet.
“I had no idea that just a year later I would be part of it all with the Under 18’s either. Going to the training camp already and meeting the team has been great, and I’ve already learned so much. It’s scary, yeah, but it’s also really, really exciting.”
Kernick has been named as part of the NSW Under 18s Women’s squad alongside fellow Knights stars Caitlan Johnston and Joeli Morris, both of whom also contested the 24-12 loss to the Illawarra Steelers alongside Kernick at Bankwest Stadium earlier this month.
The Under 18s Women’s roster has mainly been selected from the Tarsha Gale Cup competition, which is played in an 11-a-side format over the opening months of each year.
After the 12-point loss to title-rivals the Steelers took away Kernick’s chance for silverware in and the red and blue of the Knights, her gaze has fixed on an even bigger prize – knocking over NSW arch-rivals Queensland in the upcoming battle at North Sydney Oval.
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“Losing the Tarsha Gale Cup final was heartbreaking, and it sucked losing two in a row, but beating Queensland would mean so much despite all the loss,” she said. “Even better, to do it alongside Caitlan and Joeli as well would just be amazing.”
One major challenge stands in Kernick’s way as she prepares for the contest of Origin late next month. She’s never played 13-a-side footy, and has spent the first months of 2019 in an 11-a-side competition.
It’s not a problem for her, however, the Knights second rower said. In fact, she relishes the opportunity to show everyone she can take that next step up.
“It will be pretty different for sure, but I’m excited to learn it, especially considering most of my experience comes from the Tarsha Gale Cup,” shes said. “I want to use Origin to prove I can make the shift to the 13-format.
“The change will be hard, I know, it was difficult to go from the 9s in the Cup to the 11-a-side that we had in 2019, but it will be a lot easier when so many of the girls are doing the same thing around you. I’m hopefully I can make the shift, because it will mean that I can continue onwards in rugby league.”
The Under 18’s Origin squad has two training camps at the NSW Rugby League Centre of Excellence on Sunday, May 26 and Sunday, June 9, before the final team is chosen to head into Origin camp on Tuesday, June 18.
NSW Under-18s Women’s Squad: Shondell Akhabue (Parramatta Eels), Eleni Amone (Illawarra Steelers), Janaya Bent (Wests Tigers), Teegan Berry (Illawarra Steelers), Jamie Chapman (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks), Emily Curtain (Wests Tigers), Sophie Curtain (Wests Tigers), Brandii Davis-Welsh (Sydney Roosters), Tymekqwa Duckett (Sydney Roosters), Tegan Dymock (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks), Zali Fay (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks), Tiana Graham (Illawarra Steelers), Filomina Hanisi (St George Dragons), Caitlan Johnston (Newcastle Knights), Olivia Kernick (Newcastle Knights), Mikayla Kidd (Illawarra Steelers), Joeli Morris (Newcastle Knights), Taina Naividi (St George Dragons), Riley Scott (Illawarra Steelers), Tess Staines (Riverina Bulls), Mareva Swann (St George Dragons), Rhiannon Tungai (Illawarra Steelers); Olivia Vale (Illawarra Steelers), Reshaun Vaughan (Penrith Panthers), Maddison Weatherall (Illawarra Steelers). Coach: Daniel Lacey.