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Former Waikato Chief's long road back to fitness

The impromptu appearance of NRL forward Matt Lodge in the North’s second grade on Tuesday night thrust premier rugby into the national spotlight, but it was the low-key return of a former Waikato Chief that has the Bull Sharks’ coaching hierarchy excited.

Tyler Campbell’s return from his second knee reconstruction is a story of perseverance and professionalism, and for his coaches a key step in their premiership aspirations.

Bond coach Grant Anderson has made no secret of the club’s ambition to challenge for premierships in every grade and to do that he needs depth of talent within the club that leads to competition for positions.

Campbell played his part as the Bull Sharks’ claimed top spot on the second grade ladder with a 27-14 win in the hastily convened match at Hugh Courtney Oval.

It largely went unnoticed outside of Bull Sharks circles as the appearance of Lodge, who stunned the NRL world when he walked out on the New Zealand Warriors, captured the headlines.

With Campbell on the comeback trail and the arrival of former England U20s star Dan Lancaster, Anderson now has some serious class with topflight rugby experience in the playmaker ranks.

Lancaster, the son of former England coach Stuart Lancaster, was a key figure in England’s Under 20s six nations triumph in 2021 and has been playing professionally for the Leicester Tigers.

The incumbent fly-half, former Australian U20s utility back Hayden Sargeant, has also been one of the shining lights for the Bull Sharks.

“There is a lot of competition within our outside backs with Dan arriving, Tyler coming back from injury and Hayden Sargeant has been doing a really good job for us there,’’ he said.

“That is what we want, we are looking to win premierships in all grades and the more players we have pushing for selection just strengthens our depth.’’

Campbell, a TSS product, was making a name for himself with Super Rugby franchise the Chiefs before suffering a broken leg in 2019.

He returned to the Gold Coast that off-season to attend the funeral of his grandfather when the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the world, leaving him stranded.

“I was going back to Waikato, but then Covid struck and there were border issues and so much confusion about what the competitions would look like,’’ he said.

He had a connection with Anderson through TSS and decided to come and play at Bond until his future became clearer.

In his first outing against Sunnybank in 2020, he experienced the agony and ecstasy of rugby in two dramatic minutes when he scored the first try of the game only to rupture his ACL as he was tackled over the try line.

Twelve months of dedicated rehabbing saw him back in action early in 2021, but three games in and the same ACL blew out again, forcing him into a second reconstruction.

When a surgeon insisted he was the victim of rotten luck and there was no structural issue with his knee, he set himself for another 12 month stint of rehab.

“I’ve played six games in almost three years,’’ he said.

“It is a bit of competitiveness for me, I love rugby, I grew up on rugby so when I was injured I was always around the club, staying connected with the team and doing everything I could to get back.

“It hasn’t been easy, some days have been better than others, but the club has been really supportive.

 “My main goal is to play professional rugby again, but for now it is to get on the field and string some performances together.’’

Anderson said the utility back had left no stone unturned in his bid to return to rugby.   

“He has been great, he is really diligent with his rehab, he’s a consummate professional which has contributed to him getting back from his 2nd ACL,’’ he said.

“It was great to see him play, I thought he did really well, he had some great contact and although he was understandably a bit rusty with his skills after two years out of the game, there were great signs of what he is going to be able to bring us.

“I’m looking forward to seeing him play again this week and in the coming weeks push himself into the frame for selection for the first grade side.’’

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