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The only things left in rugby league for Isabelle Kelly to achieve can be counted on one hand. 

It's why the Roosters captain remains hungry but also as content as she’s ever been.

One day Kelly is planning out the next five years of rugby league career in the hope of finishing her time in the game as a Rooster.

The next, she’s telling teammates she could bow out this season and retire at 27 if the side goes on to win a second NRLW premiership.

“I said that to Keeley [Davis] the other day that if we win this year I could retire, and then I said ‘you’re full of sh*t Isabelle, you’re not going to retire’,” the star centre joked to “But then even if we did achieve it, the next year I would probably say the same thing.

“I just want to be there on grand final day lifting that premiership trophy. That’s the last thing I want to tick off in my career. It would be the icing on the cake.

"I’ve been very lucky with everything that has come my way and the life rugby league has given me."

Isabelle Kelly's premiership ring after helping the Roosters to the 2021 NRLW title.
Isabelle Kelly's premiership ring after helping the Roosters to the 2021 NRLW title. ©NRL Photos

There was some head-scratching going on when the NRL released the NRLW contracts list in July, highlighting the fact that Jillaroos stars such as Kelly, Jess Sergis and Tarryn Aiken were all locked in to only one-year deals at the club.  

Playing on a 12-month contract hasn’t bothered Kelly, who has no intentions of going anywhere again after a brief stint with the Dragons in 2020.

“I want to be at the Roosters for the rest of my career,” Kelly said.

“To know the club wants to do that with me too gives me a lot of confidence. Strangey [coach John Strange] signing on is massive. He’s a massive advocate for women’s sport in women in general.

“He’s always positive and respectful and wants the best for everyone.

"I’m sure with the season we’ve had and the support at the club we’ll see the girls starting to sign longer contracts.

“When you’re signing on for multi-year deals now you’re signing on for full-time work when it comes to getting security away from the game and that’s huge.”

Isabelle Kelly and her partner Jake after the 2021 NRLW grand final.
Isabelle Kelly and her partner Jake after the 2021 NRLW grand final. ©NRL Photos

Kelly's life at the Roosters isn't just limited to her on-field contributions.

The star centre married the club's strength and conditioning coach, Jake Callister, in January 2020, and despite seeing the likes of Sam Bremner and Corban Baxter transition from playing to motherhood and back to the Roosters, any talk of starting a family during Kelly's career has been put on hold.

“I would love to do that after I finish,” Kelly said.

“I’m 27 but I feel like I’m at my best with who I am as a player now.

“I’m a bit selfish in that sense but it’s super inspiring to see women like Corban [Baxter], who has come back from a baby and is playing the best footy she’s ever played.

“I mean, you can never rule it out, but I just can’t see myself doing it. It’s very unique with Jake, the girls love him and he’s very well-respected.

“A lot of the younger girls don’t realise we’re married until the back end of a season.

“He’s very supportive and knows how to flick that switch when we get home to be the husband instead of the S&C coach.

“He’s brought out the best in me in my physical career and performance, and he’s done the same for the rest of the squad.”

Isabelle Kelly's tries against the Dragons

That squad includes some of the game's best players, with a host of international stars making up arguably the competition's strongest – and deepest – roster.

Even Kelly's friends and family have noted just how stacked the Tricolours are this season, with the captain not immune from comments about her team's talent.

“I feel every year the Roosters are always given a label with the players we recruit,” Kelly said in defence of her side. “There are a lot of comments, not just on social media, but when people mention it to you how good your squad looks.

“The biggest thing for us is we’ve created a really good culture at the Roosters in the last few years. We’ve got a great coach that a lot of the girls want to be coached by and we’ve set this standard that we want to be performing every year from when we won the premiership [in 2021].

“Girls want to come and play for us and I think that speaks volumes.

We know the real reason players want to come deep down is to be part of that culture. And the rest doesn’t matter.

Roosters captain Isabelle Kelly

Having watched the Broncos dominate as the team to beat in the NRLW for the first four years of the competition, Kelly's drive to be better – individually, but collectively with her team too – has the Roosters on the cusp of another premiership in 2023.

It's a drive she hopes opposition players carry with them in 2024 as the women's game continues to grow and expand over the coming seasons.

“The Broncos set the benchmark in the first three years,” she said. “They were incredible and a team where you were never sure you could beat.

“They set the standard for the whole competition and NRLW in general. We had a lot of great players in those first few seasons but didn’t have the culture right.

“Once you nail that off the field you can be a completely different team on the field.

Kelly creates for her Sky Blues

“It’s honestly been a really good season,” Kelly said.

“Obviously there’s been some big scores, but I think when you look at all the new teams in general like the Wests Tigers, I thought they performed well for a first season. The Raiders really stood out too.

“Teagan Berry is a great example of someone who has been around for a while but kicked on when given extra responsibility at the Dragons, and Jakiya Whitfeld has made a name for herself.

“We want to see the next generation come through and stand out."

Acknowledgement of Country

Sydney Roosters respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.