Mahalia Murphy's COVID battle ahead of blockbuster season

Catching a kick on the halfway line, Waratahs winger Mahalia Murphy took off through centerfield, brushing off two defenders before she danced away from two more to dive over the try line. It was her third try of the night against Melbourne Rebels and she'd go on to score two more, taking her season tally to nine, just months after COVID-19 complications had left her struggling to breathe.

Testing positive to COVID on January first, Murphy's condition took a sharp turn from the typical coughing and headache symptoms felt by people her age. She instead began to suffer from heart palpitations and breathing problems, and was eventually taken to hospital. Double vaccinated, the seriousness of what was happening shocked the 28-year-old and had her fearing the worst.

"I was scared, because you don't know how you're going to react over COVID, no one ever knows, so it's scary to think about it," Murphy told ESPN. "Then when you hear people having heart attacks and you start to think crazy things.

"I was scared not knowing what was going on and having heart palpitations, I've never had any heart problems or lung problems in my life. So to have those feelings of my heart feel like it's going to pound out of my chest it's quite scary."

With the virus attacking Murphy's cardiovascular system, the Waratahs and Wallaroos star was told she had an inflamed heart and lungs and that she would be sidelined for weeks unable to do anything, let alone train for the upcoming Super W season.

"I was in hospital for a bit and they pretty much told me I couldn't really train. So I contacted the Wallaroos and Waratahs doctor and they told me I couldn't do anything because my heart was inflamed as well as my lungs.

"I couldn't train for just over a month, I couldn't do any exercise at all, I had to pretty much just stay at home and I had to undergo long term COVID recovery."

Still, Murphy fronted up for the first Wallaroos' camp in two years -- so desperate she was to be involved -- travelling to the Gold Coast with the rest of the squad just two weeks after her diagnosis.

And that's when the seriousness of her situation really sunk in. Given the green light to try light jogging, just the lightest of exercise set Murphy's heart racing and left her struggling for breath.

"Our first Wallaroos camp, I literally wasn't able to train at all," Murphy told ESPN. "On the first day they told me to run across the field and back, by the time I was back my heart rate was 189.

"It spiked pretty high, pretty quick and that's what I was dealing with and with the heart palpitations as well it was dangerous, so they said I shouldn't muck around, you only get one heart."

Returning to Sydney and to Waratahs training a week later, Murphy entered what most would consider injury rehab. Unable to run, she undertook off-feet cardio exercise before she progressed to simply walking on the field and then to jogging, always monitoring her heart rate, being cautious not to put her heart under too much stress.

It took over a month for the outside back to return to full training, while she underwent a mental shift in order to overcome the many challenges facing her.

"It's all settled now, but I had to shift my mentality and just kind of get through it," she told ESPN. "Sometimes when I returned back to training I was like 'is this me being unfit or is this my heart just going out of my chest?'

"I still have been having problems here and there like just chest pain, really. But I haven't really felt like I was running out of breath, apart from conditioning, but I've never had any major issues besides just chest pain."

Following her recovery, Murphy has quietly gone about her business on the pitch, tearing apart opposition defences and making huge tackles as she makes sure to leave an impression on Wallaroos coach Jay Tregonning ahead of this year's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

Competing with several Wallaroos squad members in her own Waratahs side, including Lori Crammer and Margot Vella, Murphy isn't holding herself back after COVID, instead making sure never to leave any gas in the tank every time she steps on the field.

"I just turn up to training and give it all I've got. I don't want to leave the field knowing I could have done better, could have done something else better, so every involvement I'm in 110%.

"I'm not going in 50/50, so once I get the ball, it's like pin your ears back and make the right decision whether to hold it or let it go. And that comes with experience as well, knowing when to let the ball go and knowing your position in the team as well and knowing your role and what's best for the team, not for you.

"Being a team player is very important, just as much as being competitive for your position as well, so that all works well with each other.

"I've just been going out in the middle and emptying the tank for sure. I've got across the line a couple of times so that's great."