PNG powerhouse Elsie Albert doesn’t hesitate to answer when asked what life is like living in Australia.
“It’s overwhelming,” Albert says.
“Especially the first time I came, but with good people around me I get comfortable and more accustomed to the way of lifestyle here so it’s good.”
Albert arrived to the Dragons from Papua New Guinea for her second campaign at the club last year before the pandemic postponed the season, forcing her to make a decision on whether to remain in Australia or head home.
Her first experience in the NRLW was a challenge on the field as well as off it, so you wouldn't have blamed her if she didn't want to stay.
The Dragons never won a game and Albert was learning the Australian way of living alongside great mate Steph Hancock, who wasn’t re-signed this season.
After a few visa issues and border restrictions last year, it was decided the 25-year-old was best to stay put and use the competition’s delay to adapt to a part-time rugby league player’s way in Australia.
For Albert, who enjoys the simple things in life at home in PNG, it opened her up to the ability to train in a proper strength and conditioning environment and learn off-field development skills in a foreign country.
She is part of the ‘Gwynnie gang’ – a house for the out of town Dragons including Kezie Apps and Madison Bartlett, who have lived and trained together the past four months.
“Coming this year they’ve really given me all the opportunity to have a strong pre-season and having that under my belt I feel like I’ve done my part for the team to get us to the grand final,” Albert said.
“The Australian way of living it’s very different. We have small family-orientated groups back home but when you come here you’re on your own. I had a bit of culture shock.
“I miss my family a lot but I’m planning to go back after the World Cup if I make the PNG team.
“I help my brothers and sisters with lunch money. In a way I’m helping my parents as well and taking a load off their shoulders.
“I call them 2-3 times a week, we have chats and we do FaceTime. They tell me off if I don’t have a good game and if I do have a good game they like to tell me where I can still improve.”
Dragons coach Jamie Soward believes Albert’s status in the game as one of the best forwards has only amplified after her first proper NRLW season at the club ahead of Sunday’s NRLW grand final.
“I was excited to get my hands on Elsie firstly to challenge her to be the fittest she can be, but also to educate her on how good she can be,” Soward said.
Glory awaits this Sunday
“We had some honest conversations around if you don’t run hard then it’s going to hurt the team and hurt you as an individual and what you can do in this competition.
“I think she’s really relished the fact that most footy players loved to be told what to do and get given a base and understanding of what’s expected of them.
“I think Elsie really arrived for me against Parramatta. It was a challenging, wet and windy day and she was up against Simaima Taufa, Kennedy Cherrington and Filomina Hanisi… those girls who were part of a big pack and have played representative footy.
While Albert described Soward’s coaching methods for her own game as “phenomenal”, the Dragons coach said it was purely about getting players to realise their full potential.
“I don’t take any credit, she’s a great model for women of Papua New Guinea who want to play rugby league,” he said.
“We can’t wait to hopefully spend some time together ahead of season two and potentially get up there to PNG and unearth the next 5-6 Elsie Alberts and get them into our program.
“I think it’d be exciting.”
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