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Manly prop Sean Keppie.

Sean Keppie's rugby league career started with him making sand castles in back play, but 17-hour days have the former Eels junior set to shore up Manly's dire front-row stocks in next week's sudden death final.

Keppie was grinning from ear-to-ear on Friday night despite the Sea Eagles' 32-16 loss to Parramatta, the 20-year-old prop debuting from the bench as Taniela Paseka (knee) and Martin Taupau (suspension) were the latest additions to Manly's bulging casualty ward.

Taupau is expected to challenge his one-game ban for knocking out Ray Stone with a high shot, but with Jack Gosiewski, Morgan Boyle (both arm injuries) and Curtis Sironen (calf) all in doubt for Brookvale next week, Keppie will loom large when Des Hasler hunts for fit forwards.

Keppie only arrived at Manly last November, the highly-rated Australian schoolboy unable to see a pathway to the top from Parramatta's under 20s ranks.

It was there that Keppie would rise at 4am at home in Camden, work a full day on the tools as an apprentice carpenter before training at Eels HQ and hitting the road to do it all again the next day.

That dedication, let alone a second NRL game in the furnace of finals footy, is a far cry from Keppie's first introduction to the game through his beloved Narellen Jets.

Manly prop Sean Keppie.
Manly prop Sean Keppie. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

"I wanted to be an ironman on the beach... from Narallen," Keppie said of his first sporting aspirations.

"Do Nippers every Sunday or whatever it was. But then I saw my older brother playing footy and my mum says I fell in love with.

"They used to call me 'the sandman' because I used to build sand castles on the field when I was that young.

"I only got into it when I was about 10."

Along with his carpentry apprenticeship Keppie also spent his final season at Parramatta working with autistic kids through Giant Steps, the Gladesville-based organisation where the likes of Reed Mahoney and Oregon Kaufusi among others have also pitched in over recent years.

The bonds and rewards Keppie found have prompted an off-field career shift towards teaching and social work, while there were plenty of familiar faces and well-wishers all over Bankwest Stadium on Friday night.

Mahoney and Dylan Brown were also teammates throughout Keppie's Parramatta days, which saw them beaten by Manase Fainu and several Sea Eagles top 30 squad members in a thrilling 2017 under 20s grand final.

He ended up having "about 45" friends and family on hand as well for his first 23 minutes in the top grade.

It was a debut that took all of 2019 to arrive, Hasler having predicted a first grade run when the pair first crossed paths 10 months ago.

At that point Keppie was still spending an average of five hours a day behind the wheel as he travelled between Narrabeen and his family home in Camden across the pre-season, before moving to Collaroy a few months ago.

"'If you keep going the way you are you're going to debut'," Keppie recalled of Hasler's advice over summer before the fateful call early in the week.

"We had a phone call and he said, 'Get ready. You deserve this. I told you you were going to play and now you're playing. Just do your job, don't get too nervous. Everything's going to work out and you're going to play well'."

With Manly front-rowers thin on the ground, Hasler's likely to come calling again with finals footy hitting the Northern Beaches.

"Whatever happens happens, I'll do a job," Keppie says simply.

"If Dessie wants me to do it I'll do it."

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National Rugby League respects and honours 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.

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