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Nursing on frontline Kuk's priority over playing in backline for now

Papua New Guinea centre Amelia Kuk has declared she'll put rugby league on the backburner to help save lives if coronavirus cases rise in the winter.

The qualified nurse will step into the intensive care unit at a hospital in Brisbane from Monday to help fellow ICU nurses on the health-care frontline deal with any future COVID-19 cases. 

PNG-born Kuk, who has generated a cult following in her native country, moved to Australia in 2008 and represented the Orchids at the 2017 World Cup.

In between her rugby league commitments, the 24-year-old completed a degree in paramedics and nursing in Brisbane and has been working in the field full-time for a little more than 12 months. 

In normal working conditions, Kuk told NRL.com it is usually quite hard to get into ICU with the hierarchy of nursing. 

"I saw it as a great opportunity to upskill and deal with a lot of critically ill patients, I was excited to help out and be an extra pair of hands," Kuk said.

"I've looked after patients so far who have tested negative but now that I'm going into ICU it may be different. We don't have many cases at the moment but there's a lot of empty beds that are ready if cases do rise. 

Amelia Kuk on the attack for Queensland in 2018.
Amelia Kuk on the attack for Queensland in 2018. ©NRL Photos

"I'll definitely be more exposed to it in ICU. I'm fearful about that for my family at home and what I could bring back to them.

"But I'm not scared of the virus itself, whatever I can do to be a help on the frontline I'll be happy that I've helped."

Kuk detailed the thorough restrictions and guidelines in place at the hospital, while her own methods at home have ensured she's covering every possible safety avenue.

"I go through the back door of my house and place my work uniform straight in the wash before I have a shower," she said.

"In the car as well it gets wiped down. There's been a lot of things donated that have helped us at the hospital, even if it's just some plastic satchels where we can place our phones in to take extra caution. 

"We've shut down all the doors and entrances at the hospital. If you're not staff you can't get in. 

"Visiting hours are restricted for about one hour per patient and then you're moved on fairly quick."

Kuk has also felt the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in PNG from afar with eight confirmed cases in the country.

Broncos centre Amelia Kuk looks to make a break during the emphatic NRLW 2018 grand final win over the Roosters.
Broncos centre Amelia Kuk looks to make a break during the emphatic NRLW 2018 grand final win over the Roosters. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

"My mum was actually tested and is up in the islands at the moment," she said.

"I spoke to a local doctor on the phone and he's very stressed. The perks of working in Australia is there's people doing admin and everything else separately, but for him he's doing everything in remote areas.

"I got a feel of what it was like working back there. They don't have enough resources and equipment. 

"A lot of the nurses want to go on strike because they're worried about putting their lives on risk. It's scary to think about but I think their Prime Minister has done a good job to call a lockdown straight away.

"Hopefully the people of PNG can continue to follow the rules."

Kuk recently told the Qurious Folk podcast she would lean towards remaining on the frontline over the possibility of playing rugby league again this year, declaring she would be "much more use at work" despite signs that cases were beginning to flatline across Australia.

Kuk played for the Brisbane Broncos in their first NRLW premiership win in the foundation year of 2018 but was sidelined last year due to an ACL tear.

She managed one game returning from the injury for Souths Logan in Queensland's BHP Premiership before the COVID-19 threat cancelled the remainder of the club season last month.

Amelia Kuk makes a break for PNG in 2019.
Amelia Kuk makes a break for PNG in 2019. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

"If it came to it I would pick my career and health over footy – I actually never thought I would say that," she said.

"It all depends on what happens, we just don't know and that's the scary thing, the unknown that everyone is fearful of."

The future of the NRLW season and State of Origin fixture is also set to be confirmed in the coming weeks and Kuk said the product was good enough for the NRL to keep on the calendar.

"Once we press unpause we want to back to where we were," she said.

"I believe 100 percent if the NRL goes ahead then why shouldn't the NRLW go ahead?

"It's been a long journey to get the women's game to where it is now and it's all out of our control.

"The best thing at the moment is the girls getting around each other and encouraging each other to keep training and do all the little things you would do during the season."