Fit Davis ready to take Origin debut Sky high after denied chance

Keeley Davis will start at hooker for the NSW Sky Blues in the 2021 State of Origin Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

A life-changing experience has NSW hooker Keeley Davis fit to take her football to the next level, just seven months after being denied the chance to make her State of Origin debut.

On the morning of November 13, Davis withdrew from the Sky Blues when she realised her body was failing her. The soreness in her joints would not go away in time for kickoff at Sunshine Coast Stadium.

For six months Davis had been struggling with what she thought was a back issue. On the last week of Origin camp she had an incident which made it worse.

And so she was forced to watch the Sky Blues fall 24-18 to Queensland from the sidelines, in what was their first Origin defeat in five years.

It was devastating. Her only comfort was that NSW's hooker duties were in the hands of veteran Kylie Hilder.

"That made me feel a lot better about the situation, but it was devastating to sit and watch the team not come away with the trophy. It was really hard," Davis told ESPN.

Two months later, 20-year-old Davis was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis - an autoimmune disease which causes painful swelling in joints.

She trialed various medications until finding the one that changed her life, as well as her football career.

In May, she had a hit out in the City v Country clash for the latter. And now she's back with the Sky Blues to make her long-awaited Origin debut on Friday night.

"It's not even comparable to how I was to how I am now," Davis said.

"Just little things that I've been struggling with for years, I didn't realise I was struggling with until now. A life changing experience. It's crazy how good I am now."

The lifestyle change has translated well onto the field, with the St. George-Illawarra Dragons hooker adamant she can "100 percent" take her game to another level.

"I've made a conscious effort to slowly build and I feel like I'm improving year on year," she said.

It only helps that Davis has Hilder in her corner as coach of the Sky Blues, with the former hooker also a sufferer of rheumatoid arthritis.

Davis is one of two debutantes for NSW, alongside second-rower Kennedy Cherrington, and is looking forward to helping the side reclaim the Origin Shield on Queensland's hallowed turf.

But beating the Maroons will be no easy task at Sunshine Coast Stadium, with the team boasting 15 players who helped claim last year's title - including inspirational leader Ali Brigginshaw.

Davis will face debutante Destiny Brill at hooker and said the team is building with each training session.

"I think the coaching staff has done an excellent job in getting the right people in, the load we've been under is great. We've prepared well so far and are excited for Friday night," Davis said.

"This time around I'm taking in a lot more, just trying to be in the moment.

"Last year I was super excited to be in camp and was grateful, but I had a lot of stress about how my body was feeling. Being in and around camp was just a stressful time for me. Now I'm just embracing the whole experience."

NSW forward Millie Boyle, who is Davis's roommate in camp, said the hooker has never looked better and was excited for her future in rugby league as the women's game grows.

"You forget how young she is because she's got such determination and drive that no one else does," Boyle said.

"She works so hard and whether that's in the gym, on the field, nutrition, and learning different things from different coaches.

"She's just all about footy and is only 20 years old. She has such a big future in the game now and beyond. I'm really excited to see how she goes on Friday but for the rest of the year as well.

"She's had a good club season at Mounties and fingers crossed she can stay injury free because she's such a big asset to any team she's part of."