Newcastle champion Isabelle Kelly is set to join fellow 2019 state champion, Holli Wheeler, for the 2020 NRL Women’s Nines, in what is likely to be the biggest high-profile defection leading into the short-format tournament in Perth.
According to sources within the squad, Kelly’s close relationship with Origin teammates Maddie Studdon and Kezie Apps was a key reason for her switch to the Red V. Dragons coach Daniel Lacey also revealed he had been “chasing Issy” for some time.
“Isabelle was top of our list to come to the club for the first season, and I never gave up hope of her becoming a Dragon,” Lacey told NRL.com. “It speaks volumes for what we’re doing for her to want to jump ship and get an insight into how we operate.”
The St George helmsman did add that the 2018 Golden Boot recipient was only signed for the Perth tournament, as with any NRLW movements in February. That doesn’t mean the club wouldn’t continue chasing her for the season proper.
“She’s only committed to the Nines for now but hopefully we can sit down at some stage and look at her future with the Dragons,” Lacey added.
Kelly, who recently tied the knot with long-term partner Jake Callister with a ceremony that saw a host of NRLW superstars turn out, has admitted her future with the Sydney Roosters isn’t completely set in stone after two difficult seasons.
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The 23-year-old joined the Tricolours for the inaugural women’s premiership, and scored in two of the team’s three regular-season games. The Roosters went on to fall to the Broncos in a lopsided 34–12 grand final.
A more difficult run awaited Kelly and Sydney in 2019. Helmed by Rick Stone, the squad struggled to find form. Despite boasting a host of stars, they fell to a 0–3 record, and missed playoffs. The Dragons took their place in the big dance.
As well as Wallsend’s Wheeler, and Origin teammates Studdon and Apps, Kelly will be joined on the park by 2019 Dally M superstar Jessica Sergis, and returning inaugural Dragons skipper Sam Bremner.
The St George captain missed the entire 2019 season with the birth of her first child last August. Now she returns to the Red V ready to deliver again, and she admits she’s “super excited” to get out on the park alongside Kelly in Perth.
“Isabelle, myself, Kezie and Maddie have played together a fair bit and we are all really good friends, so it is going to be great to have her in our team,” she said. “Nines is her forte so it is going to be exciting to play with her in Perth.”
The NRLW Nines will be hosted at HBF Park on February 14-15. The Dragons will face off against the Roosters, Broncos, and Warriors across both days. The full fixture list for the short-format tournament is available here.