Tyrone Phillips opted against a switch to rugby sevens to keep his NRL dream alive, and has been rewarded with a debut for the Penrith Panthers in Friday’s match against the North Queensland Cowboys.
Phillips thought his rugby league career was over when the Bulldogs opted against re-signing him last season and no other side showed any interest in making an offer.
“This game is a big part of my life and I thought it was over. I didn’t think I would get the chance to play in the NRL again,” Phillips told AAP.
That’s when he reached out to former Australian rugby sevens coach Andy Friend, who gave the backline utility a series of off-season fitness markers to prepare for the 2018 calendar.
If he met all expectations, his first sevens stop for Australia would have been in Munich, where former South Sydney Rabbitohs junior Maurice Longbottom was unearthed as the latest star of the rugby variant.
Other World Series destinations include Cape Town, Las Vegas, Vancouver, London and Paris, and the bigger carrots of the Commonwealth Games, the World Cup, and the ultimate dream of reaching the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Instead, the 24-year-old will make his NRL debut at Carrington Park in Bathurst.
“During the season when I was playing league, I did keep an eye on sevens,” Phillips said.
“The coach told me to tune in, watch a bit, get a bit of understanding of it.
“Everyone holds their own destiny and everyone’s got a different path to take. My heart was in league and that’s where I wanted to stay.”
Phillips has been rushed onto the wing after an injury crisis at Penrith, the latest of which resulted in fullback Dylan Edwards being ruled out for the season with a shoulder reconstruction.
Phillips is one week into his comeback from a pectoral tear he suffered in the pre-season but quickly impressed with a hat-trick in reserve grade.
“It feels great being back,” he said.
“It’s been a long wait being in rehab for the past four and a half months, but I was happy enough to get the chance to play last week.
“I didn’t expect this at all.”