Emma Tonegato recalls being a quiet, tiny outside back when she pulled on a NSW jersey in 2012 and took on the might of the Maroons.
It was a sunny afternoon in Penrith when NSW played Queensland in the interstate challenge, as the match between the two states was formally known as before it officially became Origin six years later.
Tonegato, the reigning joint Dally M medal winner, was a pocket-sized fullback who wore headgear that day as the Maroons racked up another win - they never lost for 17 years straight until 2016.
Tonegato will make her official Origin debut for NSW on Friday night at GIO Stadium as the Sky Blues look to end a two-year drought with victory in the nation’s capital.
It marks a decade since Tonegato, who re-signed with the Dragons for another NRLW season on Monday, last played in the interstate arena before she moved to a career in rugby sevens.
The 27-year-old played alongside NSW squad member Sam Bremner and will coincidentally line up against the likes of Steph Hancock, Ali Brigginshaw and Maroons coach Tahnee Norris a decade later.
“It feels a little bit more official this time,” Tonegato told NRL.com.
“The game has come so far and it’s such a big spectacle these days. I was very tiny back then, about 58 kilos and I don’t think I spoke to anybody, just played and was quiet.
“Looking back it was special to be around those older girls and be part of it. They’re all legends of the game and what they did to pave the way, we’re really grateful now.”
Tonegato has been training on her own in between the conclusion of the 2021 NRLW season in April and the Origin clash, opting against joining a Harvey Norman NSW Premiership side.
The Olympic gold medallist was confident her fitness levels would stand up to the 70 minutes of action on Friday night.
“I did similar between the Olympics and the NRLW, the same sort of program to make sure I’m good for when the time comes,” she said.
“I love training by myself and it’s allowed me to make sure I’m fit and ready to go.
“The first session with the girls really shocked me, that everyone went to the next level, all the passes were crisp and everyone was talking.
“Queensland have always been super aggressive and I feel like Origin just brings the best out in everyone, the girls give it absolutely everything.
"It’s one game for now so we leave it all out there."
Match: NSW Women v QLD Maroons
Round 1 -
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
After clashing against NSW stars Jess Sergis and Isabelle Kelly in her first NRLW season, Tonegato was looking forward to playing a link role to the two in the Sky Blues backline.
“It’s great to be on the same side as some of these girls after playing them in the NRLW," she said.
"They're both strong and talented girls and the more we can combine and get the side on the front foot the better opportunities we'll create."