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“My backpack says No. 16… what does that even mean?”

Grace Kemp's mother, Kirsty, giggled as she read the message on her phone from the NSWRL Centre of Excellence car park.

"It’s because you’re in the team, Grace," Kirsty thought to herself.

Driving from the south west NSW town of Harden with her mum after being called in for an extra training session in Homebush, Kemp thought she was merely there to fill numbers – but walked out in line for a Sky Blues debut.

“I got notified to come into training last Tuesday and I thought they were still figuring out the bench and where to put the girls, so I didn't really think anything of it, I was just happy to get another training run in,” Kemp told

“Then I walked inside, and I had a bag sitting there with No. 16 on it.

“I've been in teams where numbers don't mean anything on bags, so I didn't really think too much about it.

“And then some of the girls were talking about where they were playing and their roles and it kind of clicked that maybe my bag number actually meant something.

“Kylie came up and told me after training she can't wait to see me come off the bench so I finally connected the dots. 16 is probably my favourite number now.”

Grace Kemp highlights v Sydney Roosters

Ten months after making her NRLW debut for the Raiders, Kemp’s rapid rise continues on Thursday with the former Wallaroo named to come off the bench for her State of Origin debut.

And despite being the most inexperienced player named for the Suncorp Stadium series opener, coach Kylie Hilder believes Kemp is the player to add extra depth to the forwards alongside the likes of Millie Elliot and Caitlan Johnston.

“She is a great human, I must say first, but she is a big body, and she is going to be great off the bench in the way we want to use her,” Hilder said of Kemp.

“She has been outstanding over the last year after coming into rugby league for the first time for the Raiders.

“She loves the game, loves to listen and learn, and is going to be very hard to handle.”

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A post shared by Gracie Kemp (@graciekemp_)

Kemp, meanwhile, admits she was still coming off the high of her Indigenous All Stars debut in Townsville before being selected as part of Hilder’s 36-player squad in February.

But after being given the nod for Game One, the 22-year-old prop said she is slowly coming to terms with her rapidly evolving career and what seeing a familiar face on the big screen could mean for aspiring athletes back home.

“I didn't expect to be here for Game One and to be standing alongside such icons of the game, it still hasn't sunk in yet so when it does, it'll hit me hard,” Kemp said.

“At the start, I just thought it’d be a great opportunity to learn more about the game and get to know some of the girls that I versed in the NRLW.

"I feel like I was a kid with a blue wig on not that long ago, so to see that rivalry from a young age and now have the opportunity to continue it into the women's game is very special.

"But it's so nice to be able to see that you're changing how girls see sport and showing that that the path isn’t too far away and a normal kid form the country like them can get the same opportunities."

Grace Kemp with her dad Paul playing Junior Rugby Union for Harden.
Grace Kemp with her dad Paul playing Junior Rugby Union for Harden. ©Supplied

For proud parents Paul and Kirsty, the last six months have also been a whirlwind, with walks around town with their daughter now involving young girls running up to meet Grace and proud locals asking for a photo in the supermarket.

Paul, a local policeman in Harden, has no hesitations about whether his daughter is ready for the Origin arena after first watching her strap on the head gear for the local rugby union club at just five-years-old.

"Grace started playing junior rugby for the Harden Devils when she was five and she just always loved tackling and I know this is exactly where she wants to be,” Paul told

“She’s taken to NRL really well and she openly says after every game that she learns something new and that’s what I think has got her here,

“She loves to learn, loves to be at the top of the game all the time and has always been such a natural carrier of the ball, I’d hate to tackle her.

"She played for Australia with the Wallaroos and when she made the decision to cross over to the NRL she had big butterflies but she’s taken to it so well and hasn't looked back.

“I’ll still have the usual dad jokes like ‘if you don’t come first your last’, but she’s so level-headed, that’s one thing we love about her and we can’t wait to cheer her on in Brisbane.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Canberra Raiders respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.