Isabelle Kelly opens up on Roosters captaincy, NRLW expansion and dealing with growing pressure

Isabelle Kelly is reveling in her new role as captain of the Sydney Roosters – but she knows her upcoming NRLW title defense won’t be an easy task.

Due to Corban Baxter’s absence, the 25-year-old will take the reins as the Tricolors attempt to make it to the back-to-back NRLW Premierships early in the season on August 20.

Kelly has been at the forefront of the women’s rugby league’s rise in recent years, playing at both club and association levels.

And while most players would feel extra pressure with the capital C next to their name, Kelly won’t have that problem with the Roosters.

“It’s a huge privilege – I think just being part of the Sydney Roosters family and now being known as the captain is very humbling,” she said Big sports breakfast.

“I think I’m kind of a natural leader and have been for a long time. I’ve always been something of a vice-captain and always waited for that next role to step up and take on the captaincy role.

“I think I’m someone who definitely likes to lead by example on the field, so I just hope the girls will follow me.

“I think it’s super important [captaincy]especially in women’s football as it’s such a new platform and it can put quite a lot of pressure on some young girls.

“The way I see it too, if they’re struggling or if someone needs a little boost, they need to have someone off the field who they can go to and feel comfortable with. I think it’s also important to know what gets the girls going – I really like getting to know all the girls and making sure I can do that for them.

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“I love to lead by example and go out and do anything or do that extra run. I think the girls will see that if I do that.”

Kelly had a brief stint with the Dragons in 2020, but it’s clear her heart beats with the Roosters after her return last year.

In what was a great year for Kelly, the star center scored match-winning trips in both the NRLW Grand Finals against her former club and the Maroons in the Origin fight, proving herself to be a true clutch player.

As she reflected on all she’s accomplished and what lies ahead, Kelly admitted it’s been a rollercoaster ride in 2022 — but she wouldn’t change it for the world.

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind this year, with NRLW earlier in the year and then Origin and now we’re back in NRLW,” she said.

“But that’s what we love – we love playing footy and we love doing our best and being on the main stage.

“We are very honored and privileged to have so much football in one year.

“It gets better every year – every time we play we play a good product and people will buy more and hopefully we’ll have full-time competition for the next few years.”

With more eyes and attention given to women’s rugby league in recent years, this has led to much more criticism and unwarranted comments from ‘fans’.

Just this week, Broncos winger Julia Robinson was the subject of nasty comments about her physique, and Kelly revealed she’s also been the subject of online abuse.

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“I’ve been through this before, I’ve been in the game since I was 18 and now I’m 25,” Kelly said.

“I’ve messed with it for a bit and it’s just getting used to it and fading it out.

“Obviously, the thing about Julia is that it’s so leftist and doesn’t make sense because she’s one of the hardest working athletes in our game.

“It’s something we have to get used to – we’re lucky that we get media training and that people come up to us and talk to us.”

In the run-up to the upcoming season, Kelly is excited about the unpredictability of the competition, especially with the many player movements over the past few months.

And for the final time, NRLW will be played with just six teams, with further expansion confirmed for 2023 – and Kelly is hoping it doesn’t stop there.

“I think the women’s competition is so unpredictable, I think everyone has noticed that in recent years,” she said.

“I don’t think we really feel too much pressure, which is good because there are so many girls who have switched this year and gone to different teams. That’s a massive story in itself – there’s a lot of new stories, so we’re not feeling too much pressure.

“I always say that pressure is also a great thing and it brings out the best in people and things they didn’t know they had inside them.

“It would be great [to have 16 teams], but at the moment it’s a bit difficult because we don’t have that many girls playing at that level. That’s slowly being built up and I think the product is definitely getting there.

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“I think next season will be a very interesting season. There will of course be a lot of new women to come into the competition, but at the same time it’s super exciting for all these clubs.

“They’re going to have to find some girls and I think a lot of girls will come from all codes to play, which is great for our sport.”

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