Talented Murphy named for Jillaroos
Mahalia Murphy always wanted to emulate Cathy Freeman and was well on her way to achieving an Olympic dream, but a one-off game of school rugby changed everything.
After switching codes just two years ago, the talented 19-year-old has been named to make her debut for the Australian Jillaroos to take on the Kiwi Ferns as the curtain raiser for the ANZAC Test on May 1.
It has certainly been a meteoric rise for the former athletics and rugby star.
"It means a lot to be named for the Jillaroos," Murphy told NRL.com.
"Over the last two years I have taken rugby league very seriously, I've made a lot of sacrifices to get to this point."
The journey all started when she was scouted and joined Hills Sports High School, a selective high school for talented athletes.
Murphy didn't waste the opportunity, she was competitive in pretty much every athletics field event imaginable and finished second in the high jump at the national titles.
There was never any doubt about her athletic prowess, but the lure of team sport and the group atmosphere took her completely by surprise.
It changed everything.
"I competed in the 100, 200 metres, all the field events outside of javelin really," she said.
"I wanted to be like Cathy Freeman, but I played one game of rugby in high school and it totally caught me off guard.
"Having that team environment and the girls getting into the aggressive side of the sport, I loved it."
The one-off game of rugby was a sliding doors moment for Murphy. It set off a chain of events that has led to her maiden green and gold jersey.
After a couple of years of rugby union, Murphy was scouted by the Doonside Roos and made the jump across to rugby league. She made an immediate impact. The team went undefeated in her first season, winning the grand final in style.
After only two seasons of rugby league, Murphy was picked in the Indigenous All Stars team, but revealed she had rolled her ankle after the Koori Knockout and was left devastated because she thought her chances of playing in the game were gone.
A committed and disciplined approach meant she got on the field, foregoing other tournaments she would normally have played in.
It was her first game back from injury, and she starred.
"I was really excited and nervous going into the camp. It was the ultimate goal to play in that game," she said.
"It was such a great experience to play with and against the girls at the highest level in the country. It gave me a lot of confidence."
Murphy trains twice a day, six times a week. While her friends go out drinking, she has maintained her focus and drive. It has paid off, big time.
"It is pretty full on, I work two jobs, train before work in the morning and then again at night after I've finished work," she said.
"My partner is a personal trainer and has been a huge source of inspiration for me. He has really pushed me and has been a big factor in my improvement and performances over the last couple of years."
Murphy impressed Australian coach Steve Folkes in the Indigienous All Stars game and the performance, plus her attitude at training and around the camp was enough to earn her a coveted Jillaroos jersey.
"Mahalia Murphy was the fullback in the Indigenous game, tall, good on her feet and fast. She could be a long stay in the Jillaroos, she is very talented, has a very good build and reads the game very well," Folkes told NRL.com.
"The Indigenous camp was the first time I'd been around her and she was great, always asking questions and trying to improve."
Folkes, a former 300-game first-grade coach with Canterbury-Bankstown, is enjoying his time as national coach for the women's game. He believes that it offers quite a point of difference from the overly organised sport we have seen evolve in the NRL.
"The women's game is less structured than the men's and I think that is a good thing," he said.
"The girls don't get to play as often, so there are less attacking structures, you see a lot more individual brilliance.
"We will have five training sessions before the game, but if you try to structure it too much, it can be difficult. We will have a lot of experienced players and that will help, because they have played a lot of footy together recently.
"We had a three day camp a few weeks ago, so that was great to get all the girls together and work on a few things. It is great that Dave Smith and the NRL are putting such a focus on the women's game. It is getting much more professional and the girls are really showing that they can play.
"There is certainly no lack of passion or commitment to the game. We are the world champions and we really want to win, but there is no doubting how good the Kiwi girls are, they show that every game we play them."
2015 Jillaroos Squad to play Kiwi Ferns on May 1:
1. Samantha Hammond
2. Karina Brown
3. Annette Brander
4. Mahalia Murphy
5. Latoya Billy
6. Jenny-Sue Hoepper
7. Ali Brigginshaw
8. Stephanie Hancock ©
9. Brittany Breayley
10. Heather Ballinger
11. Kezie Apps
12. Renae Kunst
13. Ruan Sims
14. Vanessa Foliaki
15. Tallisha Harden
16. Casey Karklis
17. Simaima Taufa-Kautai
18. Alex Sulisi