The "Blonde Thunderbolt" from Wauchope via Coomba Park has put financial security and food on the table before trophies on the side-board and turned professional with the South Sydney Rabbitohs rugby league club.
Ellie Johnston was the outstanding women's rugby union player of the Mid North Coast last season, proving almost unstoppable as Wauchope Thunder swept aside their rivals to claim the Lower MNC premiership, inflicting a 55-3 defeat on the Wallamba Bulls' women in the grand final at Peter Barclay Field, Tuncurry.
Her power and speed saw Ellie run in four of Wauchope's tries, interspersed among which were two tries which she contributed to team-mates.
The Kennards Hire women's premiership is a swift and demanding 10-a-side competition, an expanded version of the seven-a-side rugby the Australian team of speedsters utilised in claiming the women's gold medal at the Rio Olympic Games.
Ever since 1895 when rugby league was formed in Yorkshire, later spreading to Australia and New Zealand in 1907 when rugby union turned professional in a revolt against the code's amateur laws, forbidding compensation for injury, league has cherry-picked rugby's outstanding players.
Rugby union put its archaic practices and 18thth century thinking behind it following South Africa's World Cup win in 2005 and legalised professionalism in the game. Had they possessed the financial resources, Wauchope would undoubtedly have competed for Ellie's services with the poachers.
Ellie, still only 19, was an instantaneous success in rugby union. Playing netball as a girl, her athleticism and strength attracted immediate attention in her first year of rugby at 17 years of age with the Thunder.
As it was, South Sydney won Ellie over and lured her to the city lights. Under the terms of the Rabbitohs' agreements with all of their women players, each is contracted to the club for a single year at a time.
It's marvellous how simple rugby of either variety can be for a person gifted with Ellie's strength and speed - and her truck-load of talent.
As Ellie expressed it: "I gave rugby union a go and found it was easy to make the transition from netball. When I changed to rugby league, I just used the same skills."
Ellie has engaged in three trials for the Rabbitohs and played in her first game for the club in the second row although she played as a damaging centre for the Wauchope Thunder. And then coronavirus intervened, stopping all sport in its tracks, and life in general.
The hope is Ellie may one day return to rugby union, perhaps to compete in an Olympic Games for Australia, although without expectations for Tokyo next year.
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