Jillaroo accustomed to front-line defence
Serving her country is nothing new to Lucy Lockhart but the Jillaroos rookie says pulling on the green and gold jersey in Papua New Guinea on Saturday is an honour she has been waiting to achieve for a long time.
Lockhart is one of six new faces in the Jillaroos squad that will play an historic match against the PNG Orchids at Port Moresby's National Football Stadium in conjunction with the annual Prime Minister's XIII fixture.
Not only does it give the Australian team their first look at a PNG team that will be making its World Cup debut in November but gives coach Brad Donald an opportunity to see whether the debutants have what it takes to make the final 22-player squad.
As a corporal in the Australian Army for the past seven years, Lockhart spent time in the Middle East assisting with the insertion of task groups into Afghanistan before returning to Australia focus on participation in Australian Defence Force sports.
It was in representing the ADF team in the three-match series against New Zealand in the first Women's International Defence Force Series that Lockhart was spotted by Donald and she is now just one strong performance from securing a World Cup berth.
"I've been waiting for this for a very long time," Lockhart told NRL.com.
"I started rugby league when I was seven with my twin brother and then like every other female story goes, we got cut off by the age of 12 because women couldn't play with the men at that age.
"I was selected in the Wallaroos squad for rugby union and I got in the squad but unfortunately I couldn't keep going. I broke my ankle last year and it's been a massive wall to try and overcome and get a green and gold jersey on."
Along with Talesha Quinn (Army) and Meg Ward (Air Force) Lockhart is one of three Defence Force personnel in this Jillaroos squad and have impressed Donald with their discipline and enthusiasm since being identified.
If the traffic around western Sydney had been even worse in July Lockhart may not have been identified at all.
"I got caught in traffic and missed the first couple of minutes of the final and I thought Ruan [Sims] was on the field," Donald said of Lockhart.
"As I got a bit closer I saw she was a bit shorter and not quite as big as Ruan but she plays like her.
"She's got a really good motor and work ethic and if we can teach her a bit more footy she'll be one to keep an eye on in the next few years."
A representative of the Australian under-18s softball team at just 15 years of age, Lockhart is not used to spending time on the sidelines watching but has had to bide her time since moving back to the Gold Coast in May to be based as a reservist at the Army's Southport depot.
She missed the registration cut-off to join the Burleigh Bears women's team by two days and had to watch on last week as they won a third consecutive grand final, skipping the post-match celebrations to be in the best physical shape possible to chase her Jillaroos dream.
Even while she was stationed in Dubai with the Army providing critical support to infantry regiments heading into one of the most volatile regions on the planet, Lockhart said a big part of her wanted to be also heading to the front line.
"The goal was to push out into Afghanistan with the boys," she said.
"That was what I wanted to achieve but unfortunately they didn't have enough room for me to join them and they needed me back in Dubai.
"I was meant to go over to Afghanistan but because of allocations they really needed me to stay in Dubai and help with all the fitting and inserting of that task group.
"I was organising all the stores and transport over from Australia via Dubai to Afghanistan. I was inserting one of the task groups and extracting another so it was very full-on."
But now she is back on the coast determined to prove that she shouldn't be left behind when the Jillaroos go into battle in the World Cup.
"I really wanted to focus on rugby league and see how far I can go with that, especially this year," Lockhart said.
"This is such a big opportunity for women in sport to try and achieve my dream.
"I'm very stoked and excited to grasp this opportunity with both hands and show them what I've got."