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Maddie Studdon could cap off a season of redemption with a maiden NRLW title on Sunday but the Dragons halfback would give it all back if it meant she could spend one more day with her cousin Dakota.  

Dakota Donoghue was a bright young 19-year-old who was last seen with Studdon celebrating her father Chris's 60th birthday on a Saturday night in July.

Less than 48 hours later Studdon, who had flown to Queensland the following day, had received a call to be left devastated by the news Dakota had died.

No warning signs about problems with her mental health and no explanation.

"Rugby league has been my escape to help and recovering," Studdon tells

"There was a time I didn't want to play, it was just after it happened and we were preparing for a semi-final clash with the Sharks at club level and I just didn't want to be there.

"Koo was a talented young girl who loved her footy. She supported Souths and always loved watching me play. I coached her in touch football and she often messaged me words before a game.

"As a family, we did not see it coming at all. Nobody did and we've been left devastated."

Dakota's death has been made harder to fathom for Studdon by the fact that the pair had participated in suicide prevention days for charities and openly spoke about the topic.

Studdon has sought help for her own grief as the family attempt to search for more answers around Dakota's passing.

"You wouldn't wish it on anyone and no one should go through the pain and suffering that my family is going through right now," Studdon said in the lead-up to the NRLW grand final on Sunday.

"As players and people we have a lot of down time and it's very tough on our mental state of mind to speak out and message friends.

"But it's not that hard to message people. Eventually in time I'll be happy to go out there and help other families and help young kids who are struggling to speak up no matter what is happening."

Studdon will have "Koo" written on her wrist as she eyes a chance to guide the Dragons to the title at ANZ Stadium.

A strong performance in the clash could earn her a recall to the Jillaroos squad a fortnight later after a two-year absence. 

"I want to play for her, it's my motivation," Studdon said.

"I think about her every day and night before I sleep. She was always proud of me when she was here and I know she'll be looking over me.

"It's devastating but things happen and we've got to all stick together and look after each other."


Help is available 24/7 for anyone who has mental health issues by calling Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14

For further information on the NRL State of Mind program, click here

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