Family heartache driving Jillaroos debutant
Her rugby league bloodline boasts a modern great in Greg Inglis and a legend of North Coast rugby league in father Paul Davis but her late brother will be the one closest to Nakia Davis-Welsh's heart when she makes her Jillaroos debut in next week's Women's Rugby League World Cup in Sydney.
A member of the extended Jillaroos squad for the mid-year Test, Davis-Welsh is yet to represent the Jillaroos in an official fixture but is expected to be given her first taste of green and gold in the tournament opener against the Cook Islands at Cronulla's Southern Cross Group Stadium next Thursday.
A star for both the Women's Indigenous All Stars team that was victorious in Newcastle for the first time this year and for the premiership-winning Redfern All Blacks in the Harvey Norman NSW Women's competition, Davis-Welsh is a fleet-footed outside back who scored five slashing tries in one game this season.
As a youngster Davis-Welsh would join her father for the team song in the dressing rooms after another Macksville win and beg older brother, also named Paul, to let her play footy whenever he would meet up with his cousins and mates for a game.
But just days before Paul junior was due to represent the NSW Indigenous under-16 team at the inaugural All Stars game on the Gold Coast he was killed in a car accident in Kempsey, leaving behind a pain within the Davis-Welsh family that will never heal.
After sneaking on to play in the Koori Knockout as a 14-year-old, Nakia's rise through the ranks has been as rapid as her runs from fullback, selected in the Women's Indigenous All Stars team in 2013 at just 16 years of age.
With her father currently in hospital in Sydney battling a number of health issues and the memory of her brother ever-present, Davis-Welsh says her national debut will be a special occasion for the entire family.
"It was really hard," Davis-Welsh of the 2009 accident that tragically claimed her brother.
"For me, sport has helped me through it. It was my way out, my way to release the stress. Sport made me feel a lot closer.
"Every game I have my wrist strapped and write his name on my wrist. He's a big part; every single game I always think of him.
"Mum and Dad definitely do enjoy [me playing] because they see a bit of him in me when I'm out there playing. I guess it also brings them joy as much as it helps me cope.
"I was just happy to be into the squad and now to actually make the squad for World Cup is a big achievement.
"They're all excited, all the family will be in Cronulla so can't wait."
A prodigiously talented five-eighth with naturally silky ball skills, Paul Davis was already famous throughout the North Coast before finally being lured to Balmain in 1992 at 21 years of age, playing 40 games for the Tigers across two seasons before returning home to continue his playing career with Macksville and Dunghutti.
Watching her father and uncles play every week engendered a love for rugby league from a very young age until finally Davis-Welsh found the outlet that would enable her to showcase her own impressive skills.
A gifted athlete who went to state titles for long jump, was selected in Australian touch football squads and won an AFL state school crown with Hunter Sports High, Davis-Welsh always harboured a desire to follow in her father and brother's footsteps and play rugby league.
"I've obviously grown up around footy, my cousins, my brother and dad and uncles playing so every weekend would be footy," the 21-year-old recalled.
"I used to go to all his Macksville games and especially when they won I used to run in there too and sing the song with them. It was amazing.
"I jumped in at the Koori Knockout when I was 14 and was playing against women so they obviously knew that I was a bit of a tom-boy and rough at the time.
"It was at the Woy Woy Knockout and I don't even think they remembered I was playing at the time.
"I just said I was going to have a run, put on the jersey and just filled in.
"I was supposed to be 16 to play but I'd just rock up with boots or ask someone for boots and if a team was short I'd run in.
"I first made the NSW Indigenous team at the age of 16 from the Raymond Terrace Knockout when I played with Mindaribba Sisters and we actually won it.
"From there I got picked in All Stars at the age of 16 and then after I [played against] the Jillaroos girls I knew that I wanted to play for the Jillaroos."
The emergence of players such as Davis-Welsh and Jillaroo Caitlyn Moran – a fellow Hunter Sports product and Indigenous All Stars rep – is particularly gratifying for Jillaroos veteran and Indigenous All Stars captain Bec Young who is seeing the positive influences they are having on and off the field.
"'Kia' and Caitlyn, those girls are amazing. And although they say they look up to us older girls I strongly, strongly believe these girls are great," Young said.
"To be from the communities that they're from and carry all of our families and everything we do into camps like this and the way they inspire their own families and communities and make good positive changes in community. I love that about these young girls.
"That's something that Caitlyn and Nakia have and obviously why they are here."