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Papalii primed to fire after training with Slater

Tavarna Papalii is primed to fire in the fullback position for Queensland Under 17 City after getting a rare opportunity to work with Queensland Maroons legend Billy Slater on her game.

Tavarna, who has just turned 16, has immersed herself in rugby league history and rightly said Slater was "a pioneer" of the style of play showcased by the modern fullback.

Getting to work with him last year at an academy program set up by Maroons great Michael Crocker was an opportunity she embraced.

"I really liked watching Billy Slater and had him as a coach at the Michael Crocker Academy. It was good to have some hands-on work with him and get his input," Tavarna said.

"I was the only girl there so I felt the pressure a bit at the start, but it was a really welcoming environment and a really good atmosphere.

"I enjoyed working with Billy. I got all the basic things drilled into me. I like old-school footy so being hands-on with him and seeing how he works with the smaller, finer parts of the game and learning the bread and butter of the position was a great experience.  

"Billy knows where to be, where the space is and where his team needs to be. He took us through drills like that so we are not just putting ourselves in the best position, but also putting our team in the best position to defend and attack."

City coach Deanna Turner said she looked forward to having Tavarna in the team some Saturday.

"Tavarna has a really good football head and knows where to be on the field," Turner said.

"She will probably play at the back for us and can move into the halves if need be. She is just a really smart footballer and she is agile, quick and has a strong physique."

QLD City v QLD Country - Under 17 Girls

Tavarna has shone in the halves in the past but is set to embrace her opportunity in the custodian's role for City.

"I am excited to play the fullback role and all the staff and coaches are right behind me and have faith in me. That has given me a lot of confidence," Tavarna said.

"They have been hands-on and given me a specific role. I am quite excited to jump into that and get into camp with everyone in the team.

"It is going to be good playing fullback. Instead of being the organiser I can run off the back of the organisation and put myself out there more and show a different skillset."

Tavarna's mum Mel Miller is proud of her daughter and said she had been driven to succeed in rugby league for a long time.

"She first wanted to play league about seven years ago when her brother was playing at the Nerang Roosters," Miller recalled.

"I'd agreed to help with the girls' team and Tavarna was coming along to training. Her father was adamant she wasn't going to play rugby league so it took a couple of years to convince him.

"She started about five years ago in under 11s after we had gone out to dinner to celebrate her report card because she is quite academic. She begged and begged her father to let her play and he finally agreed. She has loved playing ever since.

"Rugby league has been good for Tavarna with everything. She has come out of her shell and became more confident. She used to be shy and quiet but on the rugby league field she is as loud as they come."

Tavarna's passion for the game has also impressed her mum.

"When there was the lockdown and they said there was to be no rugby league or sports played the first thing she did was pull out the laptop and watch every single game she could," Miller said.

"She trains every day and does everything the QRL and Keebra Park High ask her. She loves old-school footy. She has that attitude where you can't win if you can't defend your line."

Tavarna has also thrived at Keebra Park, where the academy program for girls is highly regarded. She said it was like a "family environment".

"The girls and teachers are really welcoming. They push you a lot," Tavarna said

"The older girls have paved the way and they take us under their wing. We all work together."

Tavarna said she would relish the opportunity to play NRLW, but also had aspirations away from the game.

"It is definitely a long-term goal [to play NRLW]  but if that doesn't work out I'd like to get into sports science and go to university for that. That way I am still in the sporting arena whether I make it as a professional athlete or not," Tavarna said.

"The academic side of things is really important to me, so having Plan B there if Plan A doesn't necessarily work out."

The humble Tavarna is determined to make the most of her City selection after being "shocked" to get the call-up after hundreds of girls in contention were trimmed down to a squad of 18.

"Once I saw my name on the list it was something I was proud of myself for," Tavarna said.