Rapid rise for rookie Jillaroo Kuk
Seeking a place at the Rio Olympics with the Papua New Guinea women's rugby sevens team ended Amelia Kuk's dream of playing rugby for Australia so she has now committed herself to representing the Jillaroos at the Women's Rugby League World Cup in Australia next year.
Picked for the Queensland team after only a handful of games of league for Souths in the Brisbane competition, Kuk recently took part in the Jillaroos training camp on the Gold Coast and is considered almost a certainty to make her debut for Australia at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines in February.
Kuk's first exposure to rugby league was at a Nines tournament on the Gold Coast last February but after juggling both league and union throughout 2016 is heading into the new year with only one thought in her mind.
"To get the call-up from Queensland, I thought it was a joke when Brad [Donald, Queensland and now Jillaroos coach] called me," Kuk told NRL.com.
"He said, 'Congratulations, you've made the Queensland team' and I was like, 'What?'
"It all happened real fast and then to make Jillaroos was like, wow.
"Playing league brought back my passion again because I kind of lost that and my love for footy died away when I was receiving all this news that I couldn't go any further [in rugby].
"When I started playing league it ignited my passion again.
"It's always been my dream to put on the green and gold. I tried to do my best in union until there was a roadblock there so after I made Queensland I thought, 'I don't want to stop now. I want to keep going'.
"My ultimate dream is to pull on the green and gold and I've made it this far and I'm just so privileged and honoured to be here. It was a humbling experience."
Born in PNG before moving to Perth with her family in 2008, Kuk spent 2016 training twice a week with her rugby union team, University of Queensland, and once a week with Souths, with the matches scheduled for Saturday often clashing.
But such was her commitment that she would regularly play one after the other, pushing her body to back up and go again.
"I'd finish the game, shake all the girls' hands and then I'd be like, 'Got to go!' and go to union and run straight on the field," she recalled.
"I'd miss warm-up and everything but just run straight on the field.
"I was still a bit hesitant on league so if the games were on at the same time I was choosing union and not league so I only played three or four games before I made the SEQ side and then the weekend after that was the Queensland team.
"I will definitely be 100 per cent to league now. It's a priority now and I won't play union next year, I'll just stick to league."
Jillaroos coach Brad Donald was made aware of Kuk's talents by former Jillaroos great Karyn Murphy and once he saw for himself what she was capable of he had no hesitation in elevating her to the Queensland team and starting her at left centre.
"Any time there is a decent athlete running around in the female space, everyone wants to tell you about it," Donald said.
"I went and watched her play a club game, she got picked for SEQ and then we picked her for Queensland and she's done really, really well at all levels.
"Thinking back to those early games, I can just remember seeing her running through space. She was running into a hole really well and was strong and fast.
"She just looked like a centre, built like a centre, even though she played a lot of lock and back row for her club."
The Jillaroos have been drawn in Pool A for the World Cup and the PNG team in Pool C, meaning a showdown against some of her former team-mates wouldn't eventuate until the finals stages.
But if that time does come, Kuk insists she will be ready to give her all for Australia.
"It will be heartbreaking but for me I have given everything I could to PNG," Kuk said.
"I've sacrificed years of my life and I have so much pride in playing or my country and I would literally put my body on the line, I love those girls.
"But it was time for me to move on and chase a different dream and although it would be heartbreaking to play against my sisters I would be privileged and honoured to make that World Cup team and stand beside the Australian girls."