It took a move to the USA for Grace Hamilton to run on to a rugby field, but once she did there was no turning back.
Despite growing up in country NSW with a father who was heavily involved in the game and a brother who played, the sports-loving Hamilton took to the netball courts, the athletics track and the hockey pitch as a youngster.
In 2013, she moved to North Carolina on a 12-month university exchange and in an effort to make friends joined the rugby team.
“They had no idea what netball was so I started playing rugby just to make some friends. It kind of all went from there and I loved it and so kept playing,” Hamilton said.
On her return to Australia and her studies in Canberra, Hamilton continued her rugby journey.
While her parents were not keen on her playing in the USA in case of injury, they soon changed their views when able to watch her on home soil.
“Mum had seen how much I loved it overseas, so she was really supportive once I came back and they made the trip down to Canberra a lot that year. So it was good to have them on board finally.”
The 26-year-old admits to being surprised by the pace of the recent growth of women’s rugby.
“I thought it would grow but didn’t know it would grow to the extent it has or that I would play to the level I have - for me I genuinely viewed it as a social thing.“
Hamilton says she is attracted by the team culture which she believes is unique to rugby.
“It’s different playing rugby - I played netball in teams like that but in rugby the camaraderie is different. The team you have on the field, you would do anything for each other. I love it and I love being a part of it,” she says.
Her schedule is a busy one with the demands of the increased training regime plus work and study having now undertaken a Masters Degree in Teaching at UNE.
“We’re training with no breaks during the week and you get tired, but at the end of the day you love it and you’re there to achieve something. So it’s all worthwhile and it’s something you want to do.”
Recently asked to address her old school, Kinross Wolario in Orange on Speech Day, Hamilton says she wanted to emphasise to the kids the importance of setting goals.
“At that age you’re going to get told you’re not good enough to do something or you’re the wrong shape or size. So I tried to tell them that it doesn’t matter and to keep plodding away and one day you can achieve what you want to achieve.
“I spoke to them about setting their goals and if you want to do something – put your mind to it and just do it.”
In the lead up to the 2017 World Cup, Hamilton trained hard looking to give herself the best chance of making the national team.
But it was not to be – or so she thought.
“They picked a 63 person squad and I didn’t make it,” Hamilton said.
“For me that was massive. I was tired, I’d been training so hard, I was gutted - there’s no other word for it.”
But at the 11th hour and completely unexpected, one person’s misfortune turned into another’s opportunity.
“One of my best mates (Victoria Latu) got injured and they called me and said we want you. So I was on a plane to New Zealand.
“It was a bit of a whirlwind and something I’ll treasure forever, I was humbled that I got that opportunity.”
Looking forward, Hamilton is hoping for more opportunities to wear the green and gold but for now is focussed on the job at hand and revelling in the pathway opening up for women in rugby through the new XVs competition.
“The opportunity that the girls have now is incredible,” Hamilton said.
“We get to use the facilities the boys use (at David Phillips Field). We mingle with the Waratahs players and they support us and regularly sending us good luck messages. That’s something I never thought we’d have.
“There’s not a massive divide anymore. I think as more people get to know us and about what we do and that we’re trying hard in the sport we love, people will get around us.”
While her schedule is definitely full, Hamilton still finds time to catch her breath – be it with a long walk on the beach or by picking up a paint brush, a family tradition of sorts.
“I love just painting, even though I’m not great at it – painting and drawing,” she said.
“My grandfather was a very good artist and sculptor, so mum is very much the artist in our family.
“I definitely just dabble!”
The NSW Women take on Brumbies Women at Pittwatter Rugby Park in Sydney on Saturday. The match will kick-off at 3pm and will be streamed LIVE on RUGBY.com.au. There will be a full replay broadcast on FOX SPORTS.