Auckland-born Greg Eastwood always enjoys the opportunity to get back to his hometown, but he didn’t anticipate it coming as early in 2018 as Round 2 with Canterbury-Bankstown’s InTrust Super Premiership side.
After a knee injury ended his 2017 campaign in June and then overcoming a heart scare during the summer, Eastwood made his NRL comeback off the bench in the Bulldogs’ opening-round loss to Melbourne Storm in Perth – only to find his name on the reserve grade team sheet three days later.
BREAKING: @NRL_Bulldogs have dropped Greg Eastwood to reserve grade. A feeling he was brought back too early after his heart scare and will return to #NRL in coming weeks after building match fitness.
— Adrian Proszenko (@proshenks) March 14, 2018
But the 31-year-old has copped the demotion on the chin, vowing to do whatever coach Dean Pay requires of him to earn back a spot in the first-grade 17.
“You’re never happy (dropping back to reserve grade), but I took it on board and I guess with the heart surgery I didn’t have a full pre-season and I probably wasn’t ready,” the Manurewa Marlins junior told This Warriors Life after the Bulldogs’ 30-14 ISP win over the Warriors.
“I spoke to (Pay) about it and he just wanted me to come back and get that match fitness into me and get some long minutes so he can trust me when I go out on the field in the top grade.
“Hopefully I can do that for the next couple of weeks and see how we go.”
— Intrust Super Premiership 🏉 (@IntrustSuperPrm) March 16, 2018
Eastwood, who has played 163 of his 227 NRL games with the Bulldogs and boasts 26 Tests for New Zealand, admitted he was underdone coming into the season.
An irregular heartbeat and bouts of dizziness during the early stages of the pre-season resulted in surgery for the burly backrower, and a couple of months recuperating.
“I didn’t get cleared until the end of January, so I had four or five weeks of full training and then straight into the comp,” Eastwood said.
“It’s probably not long enough these days because every team’s just getting fitter and faster.
“It’s (Pay’s) call, I just want to keep working hard and make it back into the team.”
But the physical recovery was only part of the affable veteran’s path back to the footy field.
There were mental demons to conquer and some earnest talks with his wife, Ash, to be had before Eastwood could commit to another rigorous NRL season.
The tragic death of Papua New Guinea international and former Canberra lower-grader Kato Ottio, who collapsed due to severe heatstroke during a training run in Port Moresby in January, added another layer of caution to Eastwood’s decision.
— NRL (@NRL) March 19, 2018
“It was a big scare. The guy from PNG, he was young, fit and unfortunately he passed away.
“I’ve got five kids and a family to think about, so it was a bit tough.
“But my wife said ‘if all goes well, I want you to go back out there and give it your all,’ so that’s what I’m doing.”
Eastwood insists the risk in returning is minimal and that he’d been given a categorical clean bill of health. He wouldn’t have contemplated playing again if that wasn’t the case.
“Family’s massive, and as much as I love rugby league, it’s just a game. I don’t want to leave five kids and a wife behind,” he said.
“I really had to think about it, but once the doctors assured me the surgery went well and I’d be safe, I got stuck back in.”
— 1 NEWS – Sport (@1NewsSportNZ) February 2, 2018
And if the off-contract Eastwood is a little sour about his spell in the ‘reggies’, he certainly isn’t showing it on the paddock.
The ball-playing lock was named in the InTrust Super Premiership Team of the Week after clocking 124 metres and 20 tackles in 48 minutes of valuable game-time against the Warriors – form that will see him back in the NRL soon rather than later and potentially see him play on beyond 2018.
“The coach wanted me to show a bit of leadership, play some minutes, get some footy into me and lead the boys around,” Eastwood revealed.
“They all responded well, it’s easy to play for a team like that.”
— NRL (@NRL) March 10, 2018