'Motherhood made me a better player'
She stepped away momentarily as the best female player in the game but Jenni-Sue Hoepper believes she has returned an even better footballer after having a year off to have a baby.
Crowned the inaugural Dally M Female Player of the Year in 2015, Hoepper has played just a handful of games since returning to the field in April but such is her class she has been rushed straight back into the Queensland team for Sunday's Interstate Challenge against New South Wales in Wollongong.
Now nine months old, daughter Havana will be at WIN Stadium to watch her mum represent Queensland for the fourth time, inspired to reach new heights with an even greater purpose to play for.
Not only eager to show to her daughter that any dream can be achieved, Hoepper also hopes to dispel some of the notion that motherhood can curtail female sporting careers, adamant she has come back with a greater maturity and vision for the game after 12 months off.
"There are a lot of women playing who have had kids so it's good to show that's not a barrier for women in sport," Hoepper told NRL.com. "It's part of life and that's just a part of who we are, to know that having kids won't stop you.
"I learnt a lot from watching from the outside in and not really being so involved. While I was on maternity leave (Hoepper works as a development officer in North Queensland) I had a good break away and being able to look from the outside in, coming back and playing my games I feel like I've matured a lot, I've learnt a lot vision-wise. Playing a lot smarter.
"I feel like I've improved even just having that time off.
"It's brought something more to me that I feel I can offer and bring to the game."
One of the most prominent faces as the Jillaroos brand and the women's game took off in 2015, Hoepper helped to inspire the next generation of girls dreaming of playing rugby league at the highest level and in Havana has an extra special young lady looking up to her.
"I just want her to grow up and see that I had a passion for something, that it's my dream to play footy and when she grows older she can achieve her dreams as well," she said.
"There might be things that pop up that will be hard but nothing's impossible.
"I loved footy but now it brings meaning to everything that you do in life and you don't take anything for granted.
"I really want to be a great role model for her and excited to see what this new chapter brings."
Hoepper's partner, Slattery, and his family will also be present on Sunday to watch Jenni-Sue play and while she never doubted her desire to return to rugby league, she said that it would not have been possible without their support.
"I always knew that I would be back on the field sometime. You can never really tell when and the timing of it, I just had to listen to my body and give myself time," said Hoepper, who will line up in the centres on Sunday.
"It's how you look at it as a parent. Your hands are a lot more full but she's my inspiration and my partner has been very supportive of me and my family. If it wasn't for that support I wouldn't be able to put heaps of time into it.
"I was really, really nervous coming back but so excited just to be back out there and running around.
"Feeling really good to be back on the field playing and to be back in the maroon jersey is a big thing.
"It feels just as good as it did the first time."