Three years after first intending to play rugby league, young leukaemia survivor Evelyn Bass has finally taken the field in the jersey of the Pine Central Holy Spirit Hornets.
The fighting spirit of eight-year-old Evelyn has never been in question, whether that’s in regard to tackling her older brothers, or tackling the cancer that threatened her life.
“It’s weird to think that at one stage her immune system was so weak that a common cold could have killed her,” recalls father Simon Bass.
“When you see her now she’s always running around, full of beans, trying to tackle kids twice her age.
“Her older brothers George and Archie have both played rugby league for Holy Spirit and, when she four, Evelyn had already decided that she wanted to join the club the next year.”
It was oddly coloured bruising that first alerted Evelyn’s parents to the fact that something may be awry – and initially put the brakes on her football dream.
Her mother Serah says, after being alarmed at bruises on her daughter’s limbs, it was a large bruise that appeared on her chin which prompted immediate action.
“It looked like someone had punched her straight in the jaw,” says Serah
The first doctor the family consulted brushed off their concerns, but the second ordered a blood test.
As soon as the results came back, it signalled the start of a whirlwind.
Serah received a phone call at midnight from a laboratory technician to tell her to bring her daughter in without hesitation
“It was absolutely horrible,” says Serah.
“Because it was the middle of the night, I wasn’t understanding…I thought it was a cruel joke.
“From that moment onwards, everything changed and it was go, go, go”
Simon said he experienced a sense of shock and disbelief that lasted days.
“Evelyn spent five weeks straight in hospital and then had to visit every day for another two months,” he says
“She went through chemo, and she had an operation where they put tubes into her heart and the tubes poked out under her arms.
“Thankfully she went into remission after the first stage, but she was still getting monthly bone marrow tests and they were drilling into her pelvis.”
After two-and-a-half years on medication, Evelyn understandably enjoyed a big party when the scare came to an end.
Speaking to the young warrior about her experiences now is surreal, given her nonchalant manner in discussing the fact her life was in danger.
“During her first hospital stay she was so off-colour and ill, and she had minimal interaction with other kids because none of them had much of an immune system, so she was pretty lonely,” Simon says.
“But then one day she started to giggle again and that was the point where I thought she was going to be okay.
“When I ask Evelyn about that now she says ‘I just decided I hated feeling as sick as I was, so I made up my mind to get better’.”
It wasn’t just immediate family cheering for Evelyn when she strode on to the field at Bray Park on Friday against Valleys Diehards in her rugby league debut.
Having tagged along to most of her brothers’ training sessions since she was a baby, she has become a familiar face to the regulars at Les Hughes Sporting Complex.
While her eyes aren’t always on the football (“She gets just as excited about the hot dog and chips,” says her dad), Evelyn has been champing at the bit to grace the centre stage.
“I ask her why she wants to play rugby league and she says ‘Because I want to smash some boys’,” Simon laughs.
“She’s told me she wants to play a position where she gets to do lots of tackling, so she’s clearly not afraid of the challenge.”
Serah says she tried to encourage her daughter into pursuits such as dance and ballet, but it was clear her eyes had been set on a rugby league debut.
“No one is telling her she can’t do it,” says Serah.
“She’s ready and willing.”