'She reminds me of Darren Lockyer'
Twelve months after coming to the attention of national selectors with a breakout performance in her debut for the Indigenous All Stars, Casey Karklis has drawn comparisons with one of the greatest rugby league players of all time.
Now something of a celebrity in the tiny community where she lives on North Stradbroke Island, Karklis was called into the Jillaroos squad on the back of last year's All Stars game and again featured prominently in last weekend's Downer NRL Auckland Nines.
Small in stature but blessed with natural footballing instincts, Karklis represents a key figure in the Indigenous All Stars potentially knocking over the Women's All Stars for the first time at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night and coach Dean Widders sees something in her that the greats of the game all share.
"She's an amazing footballer. She's got a really old school way of playing but the speed and the quickness to go with it," Widders told NRL.com.
"She's going to have a long career and grow into the five-eighth role in the Aussie team or fullback.
"She reminds me a lot of Darren Lockyer, she can play fullback or five-eighth equally as well. It's just a matter of finding the best spot for her in the team.
"She's got a confidence about her that I only see in the likes of Darren Lockyer or Andrew Johns as far as sportsmen and the way they hold themselves on a rugby league field, just so composed.
"She's just got that poise and that composure about her and she's going to be a freakish talent by the time she grows fully."
It's been an incredible rise for Karklis who says she was always drawn to rugby league despite having limited opportunities to play and a mother who regularly tried to talk her out of it.
Her older brothers Jason and Ashley coached Casey and her twin sister Amy in their first season of under-9s with the Stradbroke Island Sharks and through to under-12s when the girls were no longer allowed to share the footy field with the boys.
They went two years without any access to playing football until they formed a girls' team with classmates from Cleveland High and played irregular games against teams from Deception Bay and Beerwah.
When she turned 17 Karklis linked with the powerful Souths Logan women's team that boasts Jillaroos captain Steph Hancock among others and a path to the Australian team started to be become clearer.
"Ever since I was little we used to come to All Stars games and me and my sister would look down and see the football stars and say, 'I want to be there one day," said Karklis.
"We didn't really know there was an Australian team and stuff so when I played for the Indigenous All Stars last year that's when I had sort of reached my goal.
"I always knew that it was a goal that I wanted to reach but I didn't expect it to happen so quickly.
"Everyone [on North Stradbroke] knows you and wants to have a chat about footy which is a bit weird but it's good because a lot of people over there don't make anything of themselves.
"With me advancing to a high level of sport it is showing them that they can do stuff themselves."
Hours spent playing touch footy in the playground at Dunwich State School and on North Stradbroke's lone football field engendered silky ball skills that will be on show again on Saturday night and brought out a talent Karklis says has always been there.
"My brothers had a big influence but I believe that I've always wanted to play," says the 19-year-old who last year became the youngest ever Jillaroos representative.
"Watching some of my idols like Matty Bowen and Darren Lockyer, all the big names, I used to watch and examine each player."
A self-confessed quiet character, Karklis says her next assignment is to develop her on-field communication skills for a move into the halves; that and getting twin sister Amy into the team alongside her.
"She is really gutted and wants to be here with me but I reckon she has that talent and she'll get there," Casey said.
"I'm more of a ball-player but she's a real strong runner and really good in defence so we're kind of different in some ways but when we're on the field we come together and use each other a lot because we're so used to playing with each other."