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CODE HOPPER: Hamilton breakaway Rowan Kelly takes on the Maitland defence in the Hawks 29-27 win at Marcellin Park in round 13. Picture: Marina Neil
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ROWAN Kelly admits getting cleaned outwas a“shock to the system”.

Kelly hadspent the past 15 years in the Newcastle Rugby League competition at Central and Wyong. His body–and reactions–were attuned to playing the 13-man code.

“In league, a clean out isbeing tackled without the ball,” Kelly said.“Then I realised, I can clean them out as well.”

It was Kelly’sline in the sand moment.

“Ilearned not to compare rugby to rugby league,” he said.“They are completely different games.”

Kelly will line up for his fifth straight first-grade game when the Hawks take on a desperate Lake Macquarie at Walters Park on Saturday.

The breakaway is“stillgettingmy head around a lot of things” butis relishing the challenge of a new code.

“That aspect I have enjoyed: trying to learn a different game,” he said.“I’m nearly 35 and to learn something new is quite difficult. The last time I played rugby was at high school.It is evenharder at Hamilton because they are the best club in the competition. It is highly competitive in all grades. I’m pushing in scrums, learning lineouts.Each week I learn something different.”

Hamilton coach Scott Coleman has been impressed with Kelly’s transition and the way he has bought in to the culture.

“Hehas a really good football brain andreads space well,” Coleman said.“He is very skilful for a big man, canpass the ball at the line and has a good off load.The more physical it is,the more he likes it. Playing has opened his eyes to how much is involved at the breakdown. Another good pre-season and I think he will master that.”

Kelly hadbeen a regular at Hamilton games, watching Francis Xavier College workmate Paul Dan.

“Paul andI are close mates and I wanted to have a crack at rugby,” he said.“I nearly joined the Hawks in 2013 when Wyong moved to the NSW Cup but an opportunity came up at my junior rugby league club, Central.

The code hop was nearly over before it started.

“I played a trial against Uni and didn’t enjoy it,” he said.“I had high expectations of myself and it didn’t go to plan.I wentup the coast with Joel Penny, who was my assistant coach at Central.He said to me‘why are you worried, treat it like another game’.

“My attitude changed from that point.I have tried to not take myself too serious and enjoy everything about it. I haven’t missed a bus trip yet. Each week I look forward to playing. By the end of my last two years as captain-coach at Central, I knew my time was up.”

As for another season with the Hawks: “I bought a new pair of footy boots on Monday which set me back a little bit. I better get some use out of them.”

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