Ahead of the rescheduled NRL Telstra Women's Premiership, NRL.com profiles the next crop of talent ready to make their mark in 2022.
- Name: Keele Browne
- Age: 19
- Club: Dragons
- Position: Centre/Fullback
Growing up in the NSW coastal town of Ulladulla, Dragons centre Keele Browne has already done her fair share of travel to play rugby league.
The university student, who will enter her second year of a Bachelor of Exercise Sports science in Wollongong, has her parents to thank for all the kilometres racked up on roadtrips to chase her dream.
"All the footy is up here [in Wollongong] if you want to advance so footy had a pretty big influence on me moving," Browne told NRL.com.
"It's what a lot of other athletes have to do from regional areas but you never forget where you come from and hopefully more players can follow from the area."
Browne began playing rugby league at 16 after local club Milton-Ulladulla Bulldogs got their first female tackle team but were short on numbers.
"Mum wasn't keen so there was a phone call to make," Browne said.
"I have an older brother so he used to convince me and my sister to play against him in the backyard but he would dominate us all the time.
"We'd walk away in tears so Mum didn't want me playing any contact sport but she ended up coming around because it was promised I'd be on the wing or in the centres so I wouldn't get hurt."
An unreal year for Women's rugby league awaits
Browne quickly made the fullback and centre spots her own, impressing enough to catch the eye of former Dragons coach Daniel Lacey, who was coach of the Illawarra Steelers' Lisa Fiaola side in 2018.
From there she's worked her way through the Dragons' pathway programs, earning NSW Country honours at the Harvey Norman National Championships and selection as 18th player in the NSW under 19s side in 2021.
Along the way, the former netballer ruffled a few opponents' feathers with her competitive nature.
"My normal personality is very different compared to on the field," she said.
"It just comes out and as much as I seem to think I stay calm I probably don't in the heat of the moment.
"It's a high-intensity game and there's a lot more happening in the women's game so the stakes are a little higher."
Tonegato 'super excited' for NRLW challenge
The Dragons have lost a wealth of star power for their rescheduled 2021 campaign starting on February 27 but Browne is out to prove she's more than capable filling a void left by the likes of star centres Jess Sergis and Isabelle Kelly.
She could also put her hand up for the No.1 jersey if required.
"I'm excited for the whole year. It's the biggest opportunity I've ever been given and a huge learning opportunity to train alongside some of the best in the game," she said.
"There's a fair few outside backs in the Dragons squad and a lot of talented ones.
"When you've got someone like Emma Tonegato, she's definitely one to look up to."