By Jamie-Leigh Ray | QRL Media
Chelsea Lenarduzzi was just centimetres off qualifying for Australia’s Commonwealth Games team for shot put last year.
She then missed representing Queensland in the historic first State of Origin match.
It is her resilience during the difficult times that led her to being recalled into the Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons squad after debuting two years ago.
The loss in 2017, when she last wore the Maroons jersey, is all the motivation she needs heading into the clash at North Sydney Oval on Friday night.
“There’s a couple of us who haven’t won in a Queensland jersey. We don’t even know what it feels like to win playing for Queensland, which really sucks,” the 23-year-old said.
Born in Moss Vale, New South Wales, the prop or lock said she was “fully converted” and so was her family.
“For selection in the women’s State of Origin, it’s about where you’ve played more senior football,” the Burleigh Bears and Brisbane Broncos star said.
“I came here to Queensland in 2015 and started playing footy for Burleigh in 2016.
“For me, playing for Queensland is not just about playing for a state, it’s about representing the people who helped you get there and for me that’s all the Burleigh girls, the Broncos girls and the SEQ team I play in.
“I feel adopted by Queensland. I wouldn’t want to play for New South Wales.”
When asked if her parents and older siblings, who still call New South Wales home, were happy to be adopted Queenslanders as well, she said: “hell yeah they are”.
Reflecting on the disappointments of 2018, her outlook is honest and refreshing.
“It obviously sucked missing out (on Queensland selection) last year, but I had a few other things going on,” Lenarduzzi said.
“I was really focused on the Commonwealth Games at the start of last year and then had a few injuries, and when the Queensland State of Origin team was getting picked I just wasn’t fit.
“I wasn’t good to get picked and I didn’t deserve to get picked, so I didn’t get picked.
“My goal since then has been to get back into the Queensland team for this year, so I’m really excited to be here.”
The talented athlete, who has been involved with athletics since the age of four, was considered the best female in shot put leading into the Commonwealth Games, but was about 50cm short in qualifying for the home Games.
With her distances last year, she would have placed ninth in the Commonwealth.
“I believe everything happens for a reason and I will go back to shot put later – 30 is about the peak age for shot put,” Lenarduzzi said.
Before joining the Bears’ women’s team in 2016, Lenarduzzi had played just a handful of gala days throughout primary school. She spent her childhood playing hockey, basketball, touch football and her main sport of athletics.
“I always wanted to play rugby league, but it just wasn’t possible,” she said.
The Gold Coast resident, who is signed with the Broncos NRLW team, has spent time with Keebra Park’s girls rugby league team this year as well as helping the Burleigh Under 14 and Under 16 sides at training.
“Girls now have so many more opportunities, which is so cool,” Lenarduzzi said.
Confident in her own abilities, without being over confident, Lenarduzzi has adapted lessons and skills from her previous sports to help make her the best rugby league player she can be.
“I’ve had people tell me that I’ve made these teams really quickly, but it doesn’t feel like that,” she explained.
“Most girls have come from different sporting backgrounds. I’ve had a coach for athletics since I was five, so I’ve been trying to become the best possible athlete since then.
“Touch football was my third sport and wasn’t my main focus, but was something I really enjoyed. Playing locally, I learned how to play off-the-cuff, offloading, footwork, playing in front, and playing fast.
“Hockey, skills wise it doesn’t correlate as much, but for me, that was my main team sport, so mentally it correlates the most – trying to make teams, and missing out on teams builds resilience, which is really important in sport.
“Basketball is a lot more physical than people give it credit for. It’s a team sport so you have to learn to rely on each other and put your body on the line.
“Athletics was different because it’s an individual sport, but all sport builds character and resilience.
“Women’s footy has grown so much, but isn’t fully professional yet, so you do have to train so much by yourself. You go to the gym by yourself sometimes, maybe you do an extra running session by yourself. That is what I did all the time in athletics, so I’m fine with that.
“While I’ve played the other sports more, rugby league has always felt the most natural.”
Lenarduzzi has achieved her goal of returning to the Queensland team, now there’s one more goal to accomplish.
“I think we definitely have the team to win,” Lenarduzzi said.
“They are obviously going to be hard to beat, but I think we can do it.”