The rapid rise of Jillaroo Keeley Davis

After taking up rugby league just two years ago, Keeley Davis expected to be preparing for her Year 12 graduation now rather than carrying the Jillaroos mascot around Auckland as the youngest member of the Australian team to play New Zealand in Saturday's Test at Mt Smart Stadium.

Davis is one of six players who will make their Test debut for the Jillaroos and as the youngest the 18-year-old has been tasked with carrying a stuffed toy kangaroo, known as Jill, wherever the team goes.

"It's something they've done since the start, I think," Davis said. "The youngest player has got to carry the Kangaroo around and I have got to take it everywhere."

If she fails to do so, there are penalties imposed by other Jillaroos players but it is unlikely Davis would mind after her rapid climb from Illawarra's Under 18s Tarsha Gale Cup team to the Dragons' Holden NRL Women's Premiership side, selection in the Prime Ministers XIII and now the Jillaroos.

What makes the rise of the St George Illawarra playmaker even more remarkable is that she only took up the game two years ago after friends convinced her to play in a month-long competition run by the Illawarra Rugby League to encourage girls to try rugby league.

"There was a comp at Corrimal called the November Nines and I wasn’t playing anything at that time so my friends said why don’t you come and try this for fun. They needed girls anyway," Davis said. "I did that and loved it.

"I made the 2017 Tarsha Gale Cup squad and before that I had been playing soccer, rugby sevens, Oztag and touch but I quit them all. My parents were pushing for me to pick one sport but I didn’t love anything as much as I loved league so I said this is what I wanted to focus on and I put all my effort into that."

After being named the Illawarra Steelers 2017 Tarsha Gale Cup player of the year, Davis overcame a dislocated elbow during this year's competition to win an NRLW contract with the Dragons and forced her way into a starting role after playing the first game against Brisbane from the interchange.

"It's been amazing. At the start of the year I just wanted to play as well as I could for any team I was in," she said. "It is still pretty hard to believe.

"All of this has come so quickly. I was meant to be doing my HSC but when I made the Dragons NRL team I weighed up my options and I thought I would be better to leave school. It has worked out pretty good for me with my job at the moment in a local gym."

The decision paid off after Davis was selected by Australian coach Brad Donald at five-eighth for the Prime Ministers XIII team which beat Papua New Guinea Orchids 40-4 in Port Morseby last weekend and won a place on the bench for the Jillaroos against the Kiwi Ferns.

In a sign of how unexpected her selection was, Davis said she only found out after the Jillaroos squad was posted on Facebook as she had been water skiing and was out of mobile phone range.

"One of my mum's friends saw it but I was out on a boat at Nowra ski park so I had no reception and my mum was calling and calling," she said. "I spoke to Brad Donald on the phone when I got home.

"I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to go to PNG and New Zealand. I am so lucky to be coming into footy at this time and thankful to all the girls who have worked so hard to get us into the position we are in now."