Promising Manly rookie's bittersweet debut

Mark down March 5, 2017 as a day young Brian Kelly is unlikely to forget.

The affable Ballina junior made his NRL debut in front of a huge cohort of family and friends, scored a powerful solo try just seven minutes in, got his face opened up by a boot stud shortly after, hyper-extended his elbow not long after that, played on and also endured 13 virtually non-stop minutes of goal line defence alongside his new teammates in a relentless second half before his team eventually went down 20-12 to an impressive Eels outfit.

Phew. 

Speaking to media after the game, the 20-year-old dismissed his various injuries but seemed more despondent by the loss than elated by his own achievements.

"I was excited at the start, as you should be. It was a big step up and I really enjoyed it," Kelly said.

"I've still got to build on it but I really enjoyed that first experience out there with all the boys, they got around me and made me feel really welcome. I loved it and can't wait to do it again with the boys."

Asked about the elbow brace he emerged from the dressing rooms wearing, Kelly shrugged: "It's all good. Just a bit of a hyper extension in the first half."

And of the nasty cut running down his forehead?

"It was like the first 15 minutes, I got a boot to the head. It was a full boot straight down the face," he smiled. So no problems there either.

His coach Trent Barrett was certainly impressed with the recruit's first NRL outing.

"I thought he was outstanding, Brian Kelly," Barrett said.

"We've got a real player there. He was good defensively, scored a great try out of nothing, he was dangerous every time he touched the ball. He's a first grader and he's going to be a real good one."

That seventh-minute try came after Kelly received the ball about 10 metres out from the Eels line with not much doing and with a combination of speed, strength, footwork and instinct beat three defenders to score.

He finished the game with eight tackles, 101 metres, two tackle busts and an offload in a fine first outing. 

Prompted about his coach's praise, Kelly insisted he had plenty to work on.

"I felt like I went all right, I just keep working on my 'D' (defence)," he said.

"I was talking to 'Greeny' (five-eighth Blake Green) who's my half on the inside and he just said to keep it up and it will get better and better as games come but I was pretty happy with the team's defence, the result just wasn't too good at the end."

Kelly's face lit up though when asked about the reaction of his family, including footy-mad father Brian Kelly Sr.

"My dad's real into the footy so he was real proud and got a bit emotional there," Kelly said.

"I had my family down there in the corner. They all came down from Ballina so they all flew down or drove down. I'm thankful they all came down to support me. Mum, dad, sisters, cousins, aunties, uncles, mates. About 15 or 16 I reckon. Maybe more, about 20 or something like that."