ANYONE vaguely familiar with one of the Illawarra's fiercest rivalries would know swapping a Corrimal Cougars jumper for a Helensburgh Tigerlilies one is no small call. Josie Strong, a mainstay of the Cougars three-peat of titles between 2017-19, admits it took a moment or two.
In the end, making the leap to the NSW Women's Premiership with the Burgh was a no-brainer. So too, was coach Ryan Powell's decision to put the c next to her name, even on a team list that includes the likes of Kezie Apps, Sam Bremner and Jess Sergis.
After a round bye and week-two washout, she'll lead the squad for the first time against Mounties on Monday night and Powell said he's had no cause to doubt his decision.
"She was brilliant to get to the club, I was really excited when she turned up," Powell said.
"Her attitude's brilliant, she's so dedicated and committed and that's what I'm picking our team on week to week, how dedicated and committed they are to the group.
"Skill and everything else comes with that, but the commitment and dedication and attitude you can't coach and she's got all of them. She's the first to training even though she lives an hour south and she's one of the last to leave. She will do anything for the team and that's why she's our captain.
"On the field she won't back away from anybody and will push herself to her absolute limit which is all you can ask of anyone. That's why I've chosen her to lead our group."
Strong admits it came as a surprise given the team contains three players on the Jillaroos honour roll, but she's confident it'll take her game up a notch.
"Powelly asked me who I thought should be captain and I rattled off a fair few names," she said.
"Then he asked me 'what about Josie Strong?' I said 'she'll do all right' but I didn't expect it, that's for sure. You definitely have to step it up a little bit further but Powelly's a really good judge of character and he's obviously chosen me for a reason.
"It was definitely a big decision [to join Helensburgh]. It took a while to comes to terms with but I'm there now and I'm enjoying it. I'm just absolutely stoked to be captain and to pull that jersey on and play with those girls. It's a huge honour for me."
Strong was part of the Dragons inaugural NRLW squad three years ago but hasn't been able to crack it since, with a shift the state's premier women's competition aimed at making that leap.
"It gives me a lot of fire, just to get that little taste but not get on the field," she said.
"I learned a lot, but it'll be really nice to get in there and actually put the jersey on. I've been looking at [HNWP] for the last couple of the years it just wasn't right for me to work and take that step up to Sydney with all the traveling.
"The closer it was the better it was for me. Hopefully the next step is NRLW. That's what I'm pushing for this year. It's been three years and that's a long time so I'm definitely ready."
She's not the only player on Powell's roster with that type of ambition, which is why the club has taken the step up the elite competition after reclaiming the Illawarra League crown last season.
"At the end of the day it was the girls' decision to want to challenge themselves a little bit further which is where this team came from," Powell said.
"We lost a few local girls that weren't going to be up to it but we gained a lot of south coast talent that have the ambition to play further. That's what this competition is, it's a stepping stone, they get to play week in, week out against girls who play in the NRLW and challenge themselves.
"We've got girls driving up and back from Ulladulla. They're not doing that just for the love if it, they're doing because they're passionate and they want this. They've got those ambitions for sure and this is a way of showcasing that."