FROM the first time she picked up a footy with the Milton-Ulladulla Bulldogs, Keele Browne has been tipped for big things in rugby league.
From playing league tag with the Bill Andriske Oval-based club to progressing through the Illawarra Steelers system, the former Ulladulla High School student's rise is ongoing.
So much so that the 18-year-old, along with fellow Group Seven product Teagan Berry and Jordyn Preston (both Stingrays) were named in the under 19s NSW Country side for last month's women's national championships at Redcliffe.
"It was really rewarding to receive a NSW Country jersey and to be able to represent the country areas of NSW knowing the extra commitment that many players make," Browne said.
"Living further from rugby league teams and competitions, means these players have to make greater sacrifices just to play the game they love.
"It made it even more special to pull on this jersey alongside other girls from my Steelers side such as Teagan and Jordyn, as we've playing and working really hard alongside one another for a couple of years now."
Prior to their first match on May 19, the Alicia-Kate Hawke-coached outfit took part in a training camp.
"The team bonded really well leading into the tournament, especially considering we had only trained once together prior to landing in Queensland," the UOW bachelor of exercise science student said.
"We all got along so well - even the coaching staff said it was like we had all known each other for a long time."
The Group Seven trio's NSW Country side opened their 2021 campaign with a dominant 26-nil win against Northern Territory at Moreton Daily Stadium, with Preston scoring a double.
Then on day two, two tries from Browne steered NSW Country to a 54-nil victory against South Australia.
NSW Country's winning run ended on day three when they lost their nail-biting semi-final 12-10 to the Queensland Rugby League Rubys.
This put them into the bronze medal match against NSW rivals City.
In a back and forth contest, both sides had chances to win, before the fixture ended in an 8-all draw.
"Considering our preparation, I believe our team played really well," Browne said.
"This team had so much talent in it and everyone seemed to gel together really well.
"Reflecting on my own game, I wasn't stoked with how I played but in saying that, I didn't walk away with my head down.
"I really enjoyed having exposure to that new level of footy and have learnt a lot from the competition including specific areas I need to work on."
As Browne alludes to, she hopes this tournament can be a stepping stone to higher honours in the future.
"One of the biggest things I've taken away from the tournament is to focus on your own position and role within the team, especially when you're playing with experienced players," she said.
"The team succeeds best when everyone does their own role and does it well.
"This tournament was a big eye-opener into how quickly the women's game is growing and the opportunities that are becoming available for women in rugby league as the pathways grow.
"To play against and alongside talented girls who lift that game quality is motivating to continue to be involved in the sport at such a competitive level."
The fourth Group Seven talent to compete during the tournament was Albion Park-Oak Flats' Brittany Constable, whose First Nations Gems side lost the open's final 10-6 to Western Australia.
During their first-ever appearance at the tournament, Constable's side defeated Northern Territory (16-nil), Victoria (10-4) and Australian Defence Force (4-nil) before losing to Western Australia (4-nil) in their pool matches.
They capped up their 20-minute round games with a dominant 24-nil victory over South Australia - to qualify for them for the decider.
Group Seven referee Rhianna Boag was also part of the tournament, being her first appearance in the national women's championship squad.