Barnes keen for NRLW Raiders to move on to greater celebrations

When Emma Barnes ran out onto the field for her first game for the Canberra Raiders National Rugby League Women's side at PointsBet Stadium on Sunday, she noticed something; a group of people wearing jumpers with her face on it.

"I noticed the jumpers before I saw who was wearing them," said Barnes.

"My whole family was there, my parents, grandparents, cousins and partner wearing those jumpers. They have been my biggest supporters and I am so lucky to have such a strong support system.

"I had no idea that they had had those jumpers made."

Barnes was especially thrilled to see her grandparents there, who had driven down from Queensland and are staying in Canberra for the week so they can be there for the Raiders first home game against the Sydney Roosters on Saturday.

Barnes has been playing rugby league since she was 13. Like many young women, she grew up around footy. Her dad, uncles and cousins all played and her older sister also played under 15s rugby league. Barnes was always at training so thought it was worth giving a go.

In 2017, when Barnes started playing, the first NRLW season was still a year away, but Barnes is part of a generation that has grown up with more visible role models. For Barnes, the opportunity to play with and against women that she has looked up to for many years is a special experience.

"It is insane, especially to play alongside someone like Simaima Taufa," said Barnes.

"It means a lot to me because I have been watching her play for so many years.

"Even playing in the Queensland Rugby League BMD Premiership and playing alongside players like Tallisha Harden, it was really special."

The Raiders recruitment has focused on a mixture of experienced players who have played at the International or State of Origin level like Shakiah Tungai, Apii Nichols, Ash Quinlan, Zahara Temara and some up and coming players including Hollie-Mae Dodd, Ahlivia Ingram and Barnes. After playing the last two seasons for the Wynnum Manly Seagulls, Barnes played for the Queensland Rubys at the 2023 National Championships on the Gold Coast. She was also named as part of the Team of the Tournament.

"Being my last year as part of the under 19s division, my mentality at the National Champs was to leave it all out there," said Barnes.

"It was an experience, especially playing alongside other girls that I grew up playing with."

Barnes played her last game on the Sunday and had a call that same day from Raiders coach, Darrin Borthwick. Borthwick told Barnes that he wanted her at the Raiders. From there it has been a whirlwind.

Barnes made the decision to relocate to Canberra and she did it in just three days, arriving in Canberra on the Thursday. But when you ask Barnes about the magnitude of the change, for her it was a no-brainer.

"It was a whirlwind," said Barnes.

"But playing in the NRLW has been my dream ever since I started playing footy so to get the chance to do that out of the National Champs was the best thing that could have happened."

Barnes has also learnt a lot from Borthwick.

"He is such a good person and we cannot thank him enough for what he has done for us at the Raiders," said Barnes.

"He is extremely passionate about the women's game and treats us all like his daughters.

"He would do anything for us and really looks after us.

"It is so special to have someone like him looking after us in our first season."

For Barnes and the Raiders, their focus for the next game against the Roosters is to keep improving.

"We have played our first game and done all our firsts," said Barnes.

"It's now time to execute and put what we have done at training into practice."

Fans should also be prepared for plenty more impromptu try celebrations.

"We decided to do the Viking Clap on the spot and it meant a lot because it was a day we made history," said Barnes.

"Everyone got around it and got really involved."