Nakia Davis-Welsh is back at the elite level after motherhood break

Nakia Davis-Welsh has already achieved a lot in rugby league.

In 2013 at just age 16, she represented the Indigenous All Stars in the women's All Stars match. In 2016, she made her debut for New South Wales in the annual women's Interstate Challenge (which has now been rebranded State of Origin) and then the next year, Davis-Welsh was named in Australia's 2017 Women's Rugby League World Cup squad and made her debut in the Jillaroos opening game against the Cook Islands.

But despite this long list of achievements, when the Parramatta Eels recently announced that Davis-Welsh was joining the club for its 2023 NRLW campaign, you may not have recognised her and that's because, despite signing for the Sydney Roosters in the inaugural 2018 NRLW, Davis-Welsh did not play a game as she announced her pregnancy in October 2018.

Since then Davis-Welsh has had two children and now, she is ready to make her return at an elite level.

"I cannot wait to play for the Parramatta Eels," said Davis-Welsh.

"I always knew that I wanted to come back so after I had my daughter, I made a vision board with my sister that set out my goals; firstly making the Cronulla Sharks Harvey Norman Women's team and then the NRLW.

"I played for the Sharks last year and now I've signed with the Eels. I'm so proud to be ticking off the things that I wanted to do this year."

Just like many other women competing in the NRLW, Davis-Welsh juggles many things. She currently works as a casual disability support worker at Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation. Prior to this role she was a youth worker and is still doing Saturday night drop in with Redfern Youth Connect. Davis-Welsh also cares for her two young children.

Fortunately, in the time Davis-Welsh has spent away from the game there have been historic changes. Whilst the current CBA has still not yet been finalised, the proposal includes a significant increase in wages, inclusion of health insurance and the development of a pregnancy policy.

For Davis-Welsh this change in the game is significant.

"When I had my first child it was hard because I was working in a role that didn't offer maternity leave," said Davis-Welsh.

"If you don't have sponsors it can be a real struggle financially.

"I ended up borrowing my sister's footy boots and joggers to get back to training and in fact, I still have those boots."

It is a testament to Davis-Welsh's commitment that she is returning to rugby league at the elite level, particularly given that as she tried to return she was struggling with an ankle injury.

Additionally, in the last decade we have only really started seeing women return to the elite level after having children. As we do more research into the female body and how things like the menstrual cycle impact concussion and the return to elite sport after giving birth, no doubt additional support mechanisms will be developed for our elite players. Each body is different and Davis-Welsh certainly experienced this as she worked toward her return.

"Sam Bremner and I were both trialling for the Sharks at the same time and I was coming back from baby number two," said Davis-Welsh.

"Sammy came back and was amazing, she was a machine and I wasn't as fit as her.

"I struggled and didn't get the same bounce back because my body is different to Sammy.

"It took me an extra year to come back, but I set the goal, came back and made the side."

For Davis-Welsh, the decision to sign with Parramatta was easy, even though she had a couple of options.

"Parramatta just backed me," said Davis-Welsh.

"They told me they knew what I could do, they said they wanted me and that they would help me get fit.

"I took the offer right away."

Despite not playing in the NRLW yet, Davis-Welsh has kept a close eye on it.

"I'm really excited to play with Kennedy Cherrington because I haven't had the chance to play with her before.

"When I stepped away from the Sharks, I also had the chance to play with Elsie Albert.

"I'm looking forward to doing that again because she is just an amazing player and I feel much better knowing she's on my team and that I don't have to tackle her."