To Brian Kelly, receiving Manly’s Rookie of the Year award meant more than just recognition for his performances in the maroon and white jersey.
It was a chance to reflect on how far the proud young Indigenous man, and his long-time girlfriend, Marissa, had come in just under 12 months.
Originally signed with the Sea Eagles for the 2018-2019 seasons, Kelly arrived at Narrabeen last November after being released from the final year of his contract with the Gold Coast Titans.
In his first season in the NRL, Kelly has scored eight tries in 22 matches and represented Country.
Moving to the northern beaches as a 20-year-old was a daunting experience at first for the quietly spoken Kelly. With his family and girlfriend back in Ballina, Kelly had to adjust to his new lifestyle.
“I was living in Collaroy by myself and I was pretty bored and lonely. It made me miss home a fair bit more,’’ Kelly recalled.
“Jorge Taufua and Akuila Uate got around me and told me they were always there to help me if I needed them. They made me feel really welcome.
“Curtis Sironen was also new to the club and he helped me enormously when I first arrived.
“I had no transport to get around the northern beaches so he took me to training. He has an uncle up in Ballina who coached me in the junior league and knew a few of the Ballina boys, so we had a few things in common straight away.
“One of my favourite photos I have from this year is the one taken after I played for Country and Siro played for City. To me, it just shows the good friendship we now have.”
Kelly is also fortunate to have team-mate Lewis Brown living in the same apartment complex and says the Kiwi international has been very supportive.
“Lewis has been an awesome friend. He always helps me off the field and has looked after me like a little brother,’’ Kelly said.
“I appreciate everything he has done for me.”
Outside of his team-mates, Kelly says being able to see his family throughout his first season in the NRL has been very beneficial. The family held a 21st Birthday party for Kelly back in Ballina in May when the team had its first bye.
His dad, Brian Snr, has been a regular sight at Manly’s matches at Lottoland. Kelly even gave his father one of his NRL away jerseys to wear.
“Dad enjoys wearing the Manly gear. Supporting me means a lot to him but my player jersey is a bit tight around the stomach for him,’’ Kelly said, laughing.
“Mum always encourages me to do my best and to go out there and do what I normally do. Their support has been incredible.”
However, it is easy to hear in Kelly’s voice that the most special ‘thank you’ is reserved for Marissa. The pair have been together since Year 12 in 2013.
“Marissa has been there since I moved from Ballina to the Gold Coast for the U20s to where I am now,’’ Kelly said.
“I am truly thankful for everything she does for me. She looks after me and gets my mind off the game. She is a wonderful girl.
“Winning the award on Monday night showed how far Marissa and I have come together in the past year.
“We are super proud of what we have achieved together and are looking forward to the future.''
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