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Adaptable Aiken aiming for another big season ahead

When asked to sum up 2020, the only word Tarryn Aiken could find to describe her year was ''crazy".

But the surreal experience has left the 21-year-old with some valuable life lessons and on the eve of the BHP Premiership competition kicking off, she is looking forward to the new season ahead.

The Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons playmaker endured a rollercoaster of emotions during the COVID-affected year; including an ankle injury requiring surgery, multiple pre-seasons, strict quarantine bubbles and the challenge of living on the Queensland / New South Wales border.

Though; in the midst of it all, she overcame a multitude of roadblocks and challenges to end the season as an NRLW and Origin champion and can't wait to take the field for the start of the upcoming BHP Premiership season this weekend.

Aiken and Ali Brigginshaw lift the NRLW trophy.
Aiken and Ali Brigginshaw lift the NRLW trophy.

However, the 2020 Nellie Doherty medallist was hoping the new season will be a little less eventful than the past 12 months.

It was around this time last year that Aiken clearly remembers the heartache of the inaugural Queensland women's BHP Premiership being cancelled due to the pandemic after just one round, and of being at home recovering from an ankle injury sustained at last year's Perth Nines when the news broke.

"It was exciting to see the competition and everyone at Tweed was very excited to be involved with it, but yeah, hearing it was cancelled was disappointing; everyone was upset by it," the Seagulls half said.

"I remember sitting at home and I saw it posted on Instagram that the BHP Premiership and Intrust Super Cup had been cancelled and the first thing I did was ring all the girls and be like… 'what the heck?'

"It was so disappointing doing the whole pre-season, only for the competition to get cancelled."

The prospect of having no rugby league in 2020 was starting to set in for the sporting-mad talent, until a breakthrough competition was announced by the QRL last June to allow female players to press their case for State of Origin selection.

Aiken in action for Tweed at the Holcim Cup.
Aiken in action for Tweed at the Holcim Cup.

"We only had three or four weeks to get together," Aiken said.

"The second pre-season we had was a lot shorter and we had a lot of new girls who had come in to our team who weren’t at the first one, so it wasn't as full on as a typical pre-season.

"I think the main thing was everyone was able to play footy, because it didn’t look like we were going to play footy."

But one week into the new Holcim Cup, adversity struck again for Tweed when the Queensland / New South Wales border shut at a moment's notice; ruling the Seagulls out of Round 2 and potentially, the entire competition.

"The borders had shut, but they had the border bubble, so I wasn't sure [about what would happen], but I remember we got to training one day and our coach said we wouldn’t be able to play and they’ve pretty much canned it," Aiken said.

"I think we played one game and then we were told… 'oh, you aren’t playing again' and we’re like… 'what?'

"I was actually lucky, because me and my friend Jess [Elliston] quickly moved over the border – we had less than 24 hours to find somewhere; so I played with Wests for a week and Jess played with Easts.

"The whole time, we were hoping Tweed could figure a way out to come back into the competition, which they did.

"Because I was with Jess, we ended up just renting a holiday apartment in Rainbow Bay for a few weeks, so it wasn’t too bad at all."

After returning to the competition in Round 3, the Seagulls ended up finishing the Holcim Cup third overall, overcoming the whirlwind of emotions to end on a high.

Tweed celebrate winning the 3 v 4 Holcim Cup final.
Tweed celebrate winning the 3 v 4 Holcim Cup final.

"Considering it was a very crazy season, it was good to finish how we did," Aiken said.

"We have a really close team and we really like each other’s company and playing together, so that really helped us at the time and we just wanted to play footy, so that really helped us play at the end of the season."

Not long after, Aiken was selected for the Brisbane Broncos and the Maroons, sacrificing 'freedom' to spend the following two months in and out of quarantine bubbles playing the game she loves.

But the tough few months away from family and friends was all made worthwhile when she headed back home with a premiership ring and the Origin player of the match medal around her neck.

"It was awesome... it was the cherry on top really," Aiken said.

"Lifting the trophies made everything worth it.

Aiken with the 2020 Nellie Doherty Medal.
Aiken with the 2020 Nellie Doherty Medal.

"Most of us couldn’t work. I think there was only two people in the group that could work from home. We couldn’t see our families.

"It just made every sacrifice worth it."

Primed for a big 2021 season ahead, beginning with Tweed's Round 1 matchup against the Queensland Valkyries this Saturday, Aiken said there were a number life lessons to gain out of the past crazy 12 months.

"I’ve learnt to be adaptable," Aiken said.

"We didn’t know what was going to happen and when it was going to happen, so I've learnt to just to be adaptable and not focus on the things that you can’t change and just go with it.

"Don’t complain about it. Just get on with it."

With this advice in mind, the star halfback is hoping a big year in all her respective teams will earn her a green and gold jersey at the end of the season.

"Obviously, the Jillaroos and making the World Cup squad is my overall goal for 2021, but I’m just going to focus on Tweed to start with and hopefully play NRLW with the Broncos and obviously Origin," Aiken said.

"I just want to focus and give my full commitment to each team one by one."