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'They're with me': Aiken's family pain matched by drive to succeed

Tarryn Aiken isn't really one for tattoos, but a bit of fresh ink that reads 'Kye' on her right bicep is a special reminder not to take life for granted.

When Aiken claimed the Nellie Doherty medal for Women's State of Origin's best player in November last year, it capped an emotional end to a season that began in the most tragic of ways. 

Aiken, who lit up the NRL Telstra Premiership at the Broncos last year, has shown incredible strength on her rise to the top over the past 18 months that few others would've been able to match.

The 21-year-old lost her father, Brad Aiken, at the end of 2019, three months after she celebrated her first NRLW title with him in the stands of Stadium Australia. 

A couple of weeks after Brad's passing, the Aiken family were left further rocked by the sudden loss of Tarryn's younger brother and best mate, Kye.

Brad and Tarryn Aiken after the 2019 NRLW grand final.
Brad and Tarryn Aiken after the 2019 NRLW grand final. ©Supplied

Through the heartache and adversity, Aiken has made strides on the field to earn plenty of admiration her from teammates and coaches along the way.

"I started playing footy mainly because of my dad and brother," Aiken said.

"We'd kick the footy out the front when we were younger and our Origin nights were always the best.

"I feel like in a way when I'm on the field they're there with me and I'm doing them proud when I'm playing footy.

Aiken claims Nellie Doherty Medal

"It's been a hard time, but footy is a way for me to release and having my family and friends around me I have a lot of support."

Maroons captain Ali Brigginshaw, who has watched Aiken excel on the big stage, said her teammate's courage and resilience during a difficult time had been inspirational.

"I think footy has been one thing that's really helped her through," Brigginshaw said.

"She's a tough girl, even on the field not much bothers her. She's calm and that's why I think we've seen her stand up in big games.

"It still would've affected her but she's showed a way to get through it with the support of her teammates and all of us getting around her.

"The way she carries herself on the field and at training, despite going through hard times, is really inspiring."

 
 
 
 
 
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Aiken produced a performance Brad and Kye would've been proud of in last year's State of Origin event with her combination with Tamika Upton proving a massive point of difference for the Maroons.

The former touch football representative has taken every opportunity that's come her way since bursting onto the scene in 2019 and wants to build on the strong start to her career.

"I've never played in front of an atmosphere like that, it felt like the crowd was right on top of you, it was unreal," Aiken said of last year's Origin match.

Aiken breaks the line and Upton looms up for her double

"The first year of NRLW in 2019 I pretty much got told I wouldn't play at all unless there were injuries and then ended up playing every game off the bench.

"Last year my goal was just to play in the halves and I got to do that. I just want to build from here and add some stuff into my game."

Brigginshaw believes the sky is the limit for the psychology student and Maroons young gun.

"She has so much to offer the game," Brigginshaw said.

"Last year was incredibly tough for her but what she was able to produce in a challenging year was incredible.

"I've loved playing alongside her. I think she's the best halves partner to play with and she gets the game. That's only half of her potential."

 

Women’s Origin tickets are on sale via NRL Tickets. Supporters can watch the historic match from just $5 for juniors, $15 for adults and $35 for families