Sporting sensation Tess McWilliams says she was shocked and honoured to be named Port Macquarie-Hastings Young Citizen of the Year for 2024.
She was awarded the honour at the 2024 Australia Day Awards on January 26 at the Glasshouse.
"I was not expecting it at all, and I was very surprised when I was told that I was even nominated," she said.
"There's a lot of people in Port who were very deserving of the award, so I was very thankful for the opportunity to be recognised in such a way."
The honour caps off a very successful year for Tess who also named the 2023 Greenmeadows Health Centre Sportsperson of the Year at the Sunrise Hastings Sports Awards.
Tess, who is only 18-years-old, has already made a name for herself in the rugby league world.
In 2023, Tess was part of the Under 18s Australian Secondary School Girls Rugby League Tour to Papua New Guinea, where she showcased her skills and helped her team secure a victory.
The team was named following the conclusion of the Australian Secondary Schools Rugby League 18 Years National Championships.
In the inaugural year of the competition, the championship hosted teams from NSW Combined High Schools, NSW Combined Catholic Colleges, NSW Combined Independent Schools, Queensland Representative Secondary Schools, ACT, Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
While her team didn't make the finals, the Port Macquarie local did enough to impress the Australian Schoolgirls team selectors.
She also played a crucial role in the Under 18 Girls Country Rugby Union winning the Grace Hamilton Shield over City, and was a key member of the NSWCCC Rugby Sevens team.
Tess said 2023 was a "very surreal" year for her.
"Last year, I experienced so many of those sporting moments that you always dream about but never think would actually happen," she said.
"I was very grateful for every opportunity I was given, especially considering at the start of the year I didn't think I would be paying any type of sport at all."
Tess had all but given up hope of playing rugby league in 2023 after breaking her collarbone at the start of the season.
However, her determination to make a swift recovery and return to the field led to her donning the don the green and gold of Australia in September.
Tess said this year's Port Macquarie-Hastings Citizen of the Year Erin Denham, who is a teacher at MacKillop College, had a big influence in getting her sporting career off the ground.
"She's been a massive support for me over the last few years and actually convinced me to continue playing sport when I started year 11," she said.
"She's helped me get involved in the new pathways for women, and I am really appreciative of the all the work she does."
Tess said the new sporting pathways for women who want to pursue a rugby league career have been vital to her success.
"What I have managed to achieve so far is just a product of the people working really hard to ensure women in sport are given opportunities to progress their career," she said.
"I think providing those pathways, especially to women in rural and regional areas, gives them that opportunity to be seen and allows them to realise that their goals can become a reality.
"I think it's very important to have those pathways available to women at a young age, and I am happy to see that it is growing every year."
Tess continues to balance sport and school in Sydney where she plays in the Roosters Tarsha Gala side and attends UNSW to complete a Bachelor of Science and Arts.