It has "been a whirlwind" and certainly not easy at times, but Brooke Saunders has "loved everything" about her return to elite rugby.
Five years after last playing at the top level, the Quirindi native has again found herself lacing up the boots alongside, and against, the country's best female talent.
One of several new faces in the Melbourne Rebels squad this season, the 34-year old made her Super W debut in their clash with the NSW Waratahs last weekend.
Something she never thought she would be in a position to do when she returned from a two year posting to the US at the start of 2019, the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup representative said she probably hadn't been as nervous about a game since her Wallaroos' days.
The game was played at AAMI stadium as part of a double-header with the men, and Saunders said when they first went out to do their warm-up a couple of the players said it took their breath away to run out into the stadium.
"There was no-one in the stadium, which actually probably made it feel better, but just to run out there and kind of look around, you really had to take a deep breath, like soak it all up," she said.
Saunders' step-dad Wayne Kerr, brother Nathan and sister Emily were there to share the moment with her, which she said was "awesome", her step-dad and brother making the trip down from Gunnedah.
She admitted it "isn't easy coming back". A lot has changed in the five years since she last played in a national competition, which was back then just a week-long one-off competition.
For starters everyone is biggest, faster and stronger. The expectation from the coaches and management is also a lot higher. The game too has progressed a lot.
"The set pieces are better, people can move the ball a lot quicker, there's a lot more skill and you don't really have those dominant players," Saunders said.
"I mean Maya Stewart (the Waratahs winger scored a hat-trick) was obviously dominant but to me everyone else in her team was nearly at the same level, they just didn't get the tries."
"Instead of having two or three amazing players, you have an actual field of 15 who are amazing."
As a second rower, she has experienced first hand the development of the scrums and lineouts. Back in the day they "used to just jump in the front pod and it used to disrupt".
"It's not like that anymore," she said.
"You've got to be quicker, you've actually got to move around."
The Rebels tackle the Brumbies in Ballarat on Saturday afternoon and Saunders can't wait to rip in.
"It should be an interesting contest," she said.
"We beat them in a trial match and they beat us in a trial match."
The Rebels were gritty in the loss to the Waratahs and are coming into Saturday's clash confident .
"As a collective we know we could have done a little bit more there were a couple of kind of silly mistakes that were made," Saunders said.
She will come off the bench while Moree's Ashleigh Walker will line up at inside centre. Tamworth native Claudia Nielsen will meanwhile start on the wing for RugbyWA in their match against Queensland.