For Charlie Kensey, the joy of being a first-time father is interwoven with the distress he feels over his fiancee's separation from her England-based family.
It is the best of times, and the worst of times.
Kensey, 29, the Tamworth Magpies No 9 and captain, said Heather Little had not seen her family for more than three years because of travel restrictions imposed after COVID-19 infiltrated the world.
They were a week away from flying back to England "to surprise her entire family, and then the border was shut", he said, adding: "So pretty devastating."
Her parents, Kensey continued, were yet to see 11-month-old Stella, their first grandchild, in the flesh.
"I would say that is the toughest thing that I've ever had to go through, and it's not even my direct family," he said of his partner and child being separated from their English family.
He has watched her "battle and struggle through that on a daily basis".
Adding to their woes was the postponement of their wedding, which had been scheduled for Saturday in Tamworth and is now planned for next year. They decided to postpone it after they "saw the signs" COVID wise.
"We just knew it wasn't going to get any better, especially with protests and non-mask-wearing going on, people just ignoring the restrictions," Kensey said.
"We knew it was going to get worse and worse. So we decided to call it early, especially with 95 per cent of our guests coming from Sydney, where our friends are."
On the plus side, Kensey said being a father was "the best thing I've ever done", while Little's family was fully vaccinated and recently holidayed in Spain.
The couple - who have been together some five years - were living in Sydney when COVID first hit Australia. They had met when Little was living in Brisbane after travelling to Australia on a working-holiday visa.
I would say that is the toughest thing that I've ever had to go through ...Charlie Kensey
When the pandemic's grip tightened, Kensey soon lost his business consultancy job at an e-commerce company. With Little four months pregnant, the couple relocated to Manilla, where Kensey reacquainted himself with farm work.
He grew up in Manilla and attended Caryina Christian School, in Tamworth, before leaving school early to start a butchery apprenticeship in Manilla.
He then relocated to Sydney, as an 18-year-old, "to get out and experience the world" - staying there for a decade and establishing himself as a first grader at Brothers Rugby Club. As a utility back, he was the side's leading try-scorer two seasons in a row.
Kensey is now based in Tamworth and works for the FIP Group, a labour-hire business where he manages Pacific Islanders who come to Tamworth for work - a role that gives him first dibs on some impressive rugby talent. A number of Fijians have played first grade for the Magpies.
"I let them know before they set foot in the country; let them know that the Magpies are the place to go, not Pirates."
He added: "We've got a couple of Tongan boys who landed last week, and they've already come down [to the club] ... We should have some good stock for next season as well."
The Magpies play the Blues in Armidale on Saturday. With back-to-back, impressive wins over Albies and Baa Baas, Tamworth are now in fourth place with two rounds remaining before the finals.
"We've been putting a lot of effort into it," Kensey said. "It's starting to come together now."
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