IT’S hard to believe, but whippet-like half Albert Kelly used to be a forward. His 177-centimetre and 80-kilogram frame would burrow into the hardest of league men a few years ago but Kelly’s growth stalled ensuring a change in attitude – and position.
Now, the lightning-fast 18-year-old plays either in the halves or at fullback, floating around the field as though his legs were carrying no weight at all.
A lot is expected of the Bowraville junior, who already has the prestigious title of Australian Schoolboys vice-captain next to his name.
Kelly comes from the highest pedigree in rugby league as Greg Inglis’ cousin. Though he does not have his relative’s height or size, Kelly has inherited the Melbourne flyer’s speed and natural athletic ability.
And why wouldn’t he? Among his family, based on the north coast of New South Wales, rugby league is in their blood, and he was handed a football at the age of four.
“I’ve been playing footy since I can remember, I’ve been playing it all my life,” Kelly explains.
“I started when I was four just playing in backyards with my uncles and cousins and playing a lot of footy, it was heaps of fun. Then I started playing for my junior club, the Bowraville Tigers.
“It’s kind of like a way of life. I was pretty much brought up in that generation – everyone just loves to play footy.”
Kelly, who was chased by the Roosters and Dragons before signing with the Eels, has developed a skill set which comes from years honing his craft. He responds well to coaching, but is at his best when going off the cuff.
“I’m speedy, float around, relaxing, waiting for things to happen… I look at what’s going on in front of me,” he offers.
His style has already impressed new head coach Daniel Anderson, who ushered Kelly into the Eels’ NRL squad to train on the periphery. He may be young, but that’s where Kelly aspires to compete this year.
“I’m trying to aim for a couple of games in first grade this year – though more would be nice!” Kelly says with a smile.
“I’m going to try to keep in good form in Toyota Cup so I get a few chances in first grade.”
How have you handled the difference between the lifestyle back home and living in the hustle and bustle of Sydney?
It’s a different lifestyle to back home. Up there it’s pretty relaxed but down here it’s a bit more intense; there are people everywhere and people around all the time.
It’s a big place, you could get lost anywhere! It’s a different culture to back home really. I got brought down here when I was 15 and I was billeted to a boarding family. They were a very nice family and they just make sure you’re looked after food-wise and with rent and stuff and they take you to footy games.
It was pretty fun with them and they helped me settle in.
Are you wary of the expectation placed on you as Greg Inglis’ cousin?
I suppose it will follow me. We were pretty close until he moved away but I always loved playing footy with him. He was just awesome – a good cousin. I don’t really get to speak to him much. I speak to him when we’re on camps and he’s at the same place. We’ll catch up for lunch or something, but that’s about it.
Has he offered any advice to help your career?
He offered me one little bit of advice around the semi-finals. He said: ‘Make sure you don’t do yourself in in the gym and burn out. Make sure you keep yourself fit and fast because you don’t want to lose your speed.’ That’s a key thing for me.
Who is your sporting idol?
I really look up to Johnathan Thurston because when he’s got the ball in his hands he can do anything. He makes things happen and that’s what you’ve got to do – you’ve got to make things happen if you’re going to win games and if you’re going to become a good player.