Missing out on NSW selection last year was a bitter pill for Maddie Studdon to swallow.
Studdon, often the smallest player on the field, has played a tough brand of football, playing well above her weight as one of the stalwarts in the women’s game for several years.
She captained the Blues to their first win in the revamped series in 2018 and was part of the team which defended its title in 2019.
After her starring role for City last weekend in their 40-16 win over Country on Saturday at Bankwest Stadium, she is hopeful for a recall to the Ampol State of Origin arena next month on the Sunshine Coast.
Studdon admits she has changed the way she approaches her footy and it's helped her regain peak form.
"I’ve locked down everything and I’m focusing hard on myself and my game," she said.
Studdon slices through for the Blues
"At the Cronulla Sharks, I’ve really been encouraged to play ‘eyes up’ footy and I’m really enjoying it.
"I have confidence in myself and I’m not worrying about anything else."
It’s about a lot more than just having confidence in her ability.
Studdon and Kelly orchestrate try for Tungai
One of the biggest challenges for female athletes is juggling their commitment to their sports as well as being employed. For many, this means a mad dash between work and training or choosing to do casual work.
While that can have financial implications and create additional pressure, it means athletes have more space to focus on their sport. This was a decision Studdon made last year.
"I was working full time but then made a decision not go back to casual because it was too stressful," she said.
Studdon celebrates as Blues skipper
"It’s made a real difference because it means I have the time to focus on my footy, do my extras, have days off when I need it and get to walk my dog most days too.
"Now I’m always enjoying going to training, I love being with my teammates and learning alongside them."
But for Studdon, it’s broader than just her job.
"I’m happy off the field so it’s having a big impact on field.
"Everything is in place off the field. I’m happy and enjoying my work and spending time with my family and friends.
"I’ve blocked out everything else, I’m not worried about social media, I’m just having fun."
Studdon admits the last year was challenging in many ways, which affected her form.
Not only was she juggling her work and her sporting commitments, but Studdon also lost her cousin Dakota in 2019. Less than 48 hours after seeing her for the last time, Studdon received a call that her cousin had died.
There were no visible signs of mental health problems so the news took Studdon and her family by surprise.
Studdon misses her cousin tremendously and her family have shared a collective sense of grief since her death.
"We all went through a rough time and I recognise that my headspace wasn’t the best," Studdon said.
"It’s no surprise that that played out on the field. But this year we have really supported each other and when I play, I’m playing for my family and for Dakota too."
Studdon also credits her resurgence to the role her strong support network played and in particular, her footy friends Tiana Penitani and Isabelle Kelly.
"When I didn’t make Origin last year, it was definitely the hardest hit I have ever had and I was in a dark place," she said.
"But those two helped me out and I can’t thank them enough or love them more than I do.
"During my personal struggles away from footy they have been beside me and given me great advice."
Despite all the challenges Studdon has faced, she won't ever take a backward step.
"I love the sport too much to give it away.
It was definitely the hardest hit I have ever had and I was in a dark place.
"Even if they keep kicking me down I’ll keep coming back. I’m not going anywhere.
"I’ll keep knocking away and do my best to keep playing consistent footy."
So dedicated is Studdon that after City v Country on Saturday, she got straight on the road with her parents driving her to Coffs Harbour for an OzTag tournament.
Her mum joked that she would sleep all the way there but Studdon wouldn’t confirm whether that happened.
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