When the Monaro Colts women take to the field this weekend against the Western Rams, Elly Hazelton will make her return to rugby league after almost exactly a year away from the sport.
The Goulburn resident was named in the recently-released Monaro women's squad, and the 2021 Country Championships campaign will be Hazelton's third.
After last year's Country Championships were called off due to COVID-19, the Goulburn Bulldogs eventually did the same with their 2020 season.
Rather than face the prospect of no sport at all, Hazelton turned to rugby union, and played for the Goulburn Dirty Reds.
Roughly 12 months since she last took to the field in a league fixture, Hazelton is nearly back to match fitness.
"It'll be a struggle to get my hamstrings out of third gear," she said.
"I'm slowly getting there with my fitness and stuff, I've done a bit of it during pre-season. Especially getting around with the Bulldogs boys up here, they get you involved which is good."
Though she is the only Goulburn woman in the squad, Hazelton's past selections for Monaro mean she and the rest of her teammates have already done much of the interpersonal groundwork which is so key in building cohesiveness on the field.
"It's a really good feeling, that I'm not walking into the unknown," Hazelton said.
"I haven't been able to catch up with them lately because of COVID, so during our first training session it was just good to get around them again.
"We really pick up where we left off, we play in the same positions and we know the same plays, so we can work with each other and we don't go back to square one."
Though Hazelton is physically prepared to return to the field, she has also faced a battle to prepare herself mentally.
Early in the 2020 season with the Dirty Reds, Hazelton's cheek was shattered when she copped a knee to the face during a game. It required surgery to fix and the recovery took roughly eight weeks.
After her physical recovery, it took Hazelton some time before she regained the confidence to tackle again.
"I definitely felt that [hesitance] in the first game back of rugby," she said.
"I went to make a tackle, got low, and then stood upright and let her run past me.
"The pre-season that we've done with Monaro has been good. We've done a lot of tackling on the pads and person-to-person, so I'm pretty confident."
The Monaro Colts will get their season underway this Sunday, February 28, against the Western Rams at Raiders Belconnen. The match will begin at 2.40pm.
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