Nellie Doherty medalist Isabelle Kelly fought her way back from a mid-year ankle injury that sidelined her from the National Championship to reclaim her Origin jumper. Image via NSW Rugby League.

After missing the Women’s National Championships, Isabelle Kelly knew she’d do anything to get back into the blue of New South Wales in 2019. Her side NSW Country had fallen to City at the final hurdle of their title defence.

She could’t risk the same for Origin.

When she returned to the paddock for CRL Newcastle in the state competition, the 2019 Women’s State of Origin was just 13 days away. Less than two weeks out from the battle at North Sydney Oval, and there were question marks around her fitness, her health, and the ankle injury that had sidelined her in the first place.

Three tries in just 19 minutes against South Sydney dispelled any concerns Blues fans, and more importantly the NSW selectors, may have had. Now the 2018 Golden Boot recipient is ready to go back-to-back in the fight against Queensland.

“It’s awesome to be back,” Kelly said from the Blues camp ahead of Origin. “I had my first game back the other week against the Souths girls, and now I’m just so excited to be training with the girls. Hopefully we can do the job on Friday.”

Kelly is one of eight 2018 champions to retain their position in the side, while seven debutantes have also been selected by incoming NSW coach Andrew Patmore. It wasn’t until just a week out that Kelly knew she’d avoided the axe because of her injury.

“It’s always good to get the call, I was told I was in the team and I still thought “How good is that?,” the Jillaroos centre admitted. “You can’t be compalcent with your position in teams like this, the talent is growing every year.”

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“With the talent coming through there are a lot of debutantes, and a lot of girls that missed out from last time unfortunately. That was on my mind for sure, but I was working really hard off the field. I wanted to make sure I was there again.”

Patmore may have overhauled nearly half the squad that lifted the 2018 trophy, and shifted captaincy from halves star Maddie Studdon to forward demolisher Kezie Apps, but on the other side of the border Queensland have remained similar.

Jillaroos second rower Kezie Apps has been named NSW captain for 2019. Image via NSWRL.

Most of the Maroons’ core players remain, including superstar Ali Brigginshaw. She has been combined with new playmaker Jenni-Sue Hoepper to lead the Queenslanders, potentially to their first State of Origin victory of the new era.

For Queensland, most of their core players remain from last year’s clash with Ali Brigginshaw set to partner new playmaker Jenni-Sue Hoepper in the halves.

“Queensland are going to be tough, they always are, especially with Origin which is just one game where you have to go out there and prove how good you are,” Kelly said of her upcoming opponents. “Its never going to be easy, but I hope we come away with the win.”

The representative New South Wales vs Queensland contest will be held at North Sydney Oval on Friday, June 21. There will also be a historic curtain-raiser at the event: the Under 18s State of Origin, including Newcastle’s Olivia Kernick, Caitlan Johnston, and Joeli Morris, will be played from 5.45pm ahead of the main event.

NSW squad: 1. Corban McGregor 2. Jessica Sergis 3. Tiana Penitani 4. Isabelle Kelly 5. Shakiah Tungai 6. Kirra Dibb 7. Maddie Studdon 8. Simaima Taufa 9. Kylie Hilder 10. Vanessa Foliaki 11. Shontelle Stowers 12. Kezie Apps 13. Hannah Southwell 14. Botille Vette-Welsh 15. Holli Wheeler 16. Takilele Katoa 17. Millie Boyle 18. Shaylee Bent.