Tillett taking injury in her stride as Ponga reaches out
For all the attention women's rugby league has received in the past 18 months, a young rising star in Cairns has had to sit back and watch on in pain after being robbed of any opportunity this season.
Tahlulah Tillett, the daughter of former Cowboys player Stephen, has endured a difficult period no 18-year-old talent should face with the sporting world at their feet.
Tillett ruptured the ACL in her right knee three weeks after being contracted into the women's elite top 40 squad in March.
She was the first of what is now five members of the squad to be ruled out with season-ending injuries ahead of the inaugural Holden NRL women's premiership set to kick off in September.
The cruel blow came at a time when Tillett made the huge commitment to travel from Cairns to Brisbane each weekend in a bid to play regular rugby league against some of the best female talent in the country.
The eagerness to test herself and build her game lasted less than a half of football playing for the West Brisbane Panthers in the south east Queensland competition.
"Everything was going awesome but just before halftime my foot got caught awkwardly as I was getting tackled and I just heard two pops, felt instant pain and I knew that was something bad," Tillett told NRL.com.
"I was devastated and couldn't believe it was happening. I had just come back from not playing for eight months after having surgery on a torn lateral meniscus in my left knee."
Compared to the support network male athletes have at NRL clubs, Tillett has been isolated in Cairns as she underwent surgery and has since begun rehabilitation to build strength back in her legs.
But she insists she's never felt alone through the journey.
Tillett has remained in constant contact with support staff at the NRL, while members of the top 40 squad have gone to extra lengths to ensure she doesn't feel left out of the game's recent success.
More recently she travelled down to the women's Holden State of Origin clash at North Sydney Oval, before watching Kalyn Ponga make his debut for Queensland in game two of the men's series 48 hours later.
Ponga has felt Tillett's pain from afar.
The pair have been in regular contact after building a friendship through their previous touch football commitments - the sport that has shaped their talents in rugby league.
"He'll ask me how I've been going and to make sure I keep at it. His parents Andre and Adine have also been very supportive," Tillett said.
"They will message me every now and then and see how I'm going which is always really nice.
"It's little messages like that which help keep me going because as any injury for anyone it's always a tough time.
"The RLPA have also been great and I receive a lot of support from family and friends. It has been overwhelming. It has been a big relief to still be included."
Ponga told NRL.com he was confident indigenous All Stars representative Tillett would overcome her latest setback and become a future star in the women's game.
Currently also sitting on the sidelines with a niggling hamstring strain, the 20-year-old had perspective after watching Tillett and more recently Knights teammate Slade Griffin succumb to season-ending injuries.
"She's going to be stronger when she gets back and be unstoppable," Ponga said of Tillett.
"It's unfortunately part of our game, injuries. The time, energy and mental toughness they have to go through with theirs makes me appreciate how bad my injury is.
"I know it's going to make her stronger and she's going to be a weapon. I'm confident she will get back and do all the hard work and persevere to get there."
Tillett is aiming for a return to the game in April next year but is mindful of not rushing back too early.
"My recovery is going really well at the moment," Tillett said.
"Both my surgeon and physio are very happy with where I'm at with my rehabilitation. I've been slowly increasing my strength and I'm doing rehab sessions four or five times a week."