Brian Kelly, the ‘little seagull’ from Ballina, has developed into a fully-fledged Sea Eagle.
Kelly pulled on his first senior representative jersey today after being handed his playing kit and training gear for the Country Origin team.
“This is a great honour. Just growing up as a little Indigenous boy with my cousins, footy was a big thing in the bush for my family. I used to dream about playing for Country,’’ Kelly said.
“This Country jersey is not just about me representing myself, but for my family, and for my ‘mob’, the Bundjalung tribe.”
Kelly will be the second person in his family to play for Country after his father, Brian Kelly, played for Country Seconds against Sydney at Newcastle in 1985.
“Dad played on the wing. He had real long hair, so it was pretty funny to watch considering he is bald now. I wasn’t even born when he played for Country,’’ Kelly said.
“He has shown me a few photos. It was pretty old school to see how different the game was back then.”
Making the final City-Country game even more special this Sunday in Mudgee is the fact that Kelly has a connection with half-back Tyrone Roberts, and second-rower and captain Mitch Aubusson.
All three are products of the Ballina Seagulls Junior Rugby League Club. Roberts is also a distant cousin of Kelly, as is Brisbane Broncos star James Roberts.
“I’m a proud little seagull…Ballina has done well for a little club,’’ Kelly said.
The Country jersey is a fine reward for Kelly who has been outstanding for the Sea Eagles in his first season with the club after being granted an early release from the Gold Coast Titans to join Manly this year after originally signing on for 2018-19.
“I keep pinching myself every day asking is this all true, that I am actually playing in the NRL,’’ the 20-year-old said.
“As a little kid growing up, I used to just love watching the NRL and the players involved. To now get to play with some of them, it is like a dream come true. This Country jersey means so much to me.”
Kelly paid tribute to Manly Coach Trent Barrett for his belief in him.
“Trent is just a real good bloke who is very down to earth. He really cares about his players,’’ Kelly added.
“He is a country boy himself, so he understands where you are coming from. I can’t thank him enough for giving me this opportunity to play for Manly.”