Campbell-Gillard Eyes Starting Role
No one wants to be a 'benchie'.
As much as we talk about the Telstra Premiership being a "17-man game" in the modern day and the stats show that those who start by riding the pine or the spin bike often contribute as much as the starters, there is a stigma that is still attached to wearing a jersey number beyond 13.
So when you start seven games from the bench in 2017 and get named the inaugural Dally M Interchange Player of the Year you can forgive the recipient for viewing it as something of a back-handed compliment.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard, who would later be named Penrith's best player and winner of the Merv Cartwright Medal and is a soon-to-be Kangaroo, didn't know how to take being named the best benchie of 2017.
"Any award is nice and it's the Dally Ms, it's the night of nights to get an award so to get it I was a bit shocked and a bit stunned," Campbell-Gillard told NRL.com.
"Only playing five or so games off the bench and getting that award where someone else might have played 24 to 26 games off the bench and that's their role… I'll take it."
The role that Campbell-Gillard played off the bench went a long way towards rescuing the Panthers from mid-table mediocrity to progressing through to week two of the finals series.
Whether a master stroke from Penrith coach Anthony Griffin or an agitated response to his relegation from the starting side, the 24-year-old tore into his new assignment and delivered numbers that were unmatched in any of the 19 games in which he was in the run-on side.
His first game off the bench against the Warriors in Round 19 saw him rack up a season high of 180 metres in 60 minutes, a mark that he bettered a week later by one metre against the Titans.
Penrith won six of the seven games that Campbell-Gillard started from the bench to climb from ninth position to sixth as he averaged 170 metres and 57 minutes and twice ran for more than 200 metres, but that doesn't mean he was happy about it.
"Personally, in a team, you don't want to be on the bench," said the one-time Fiji Test representative.
"I personally love starting and love doing what I do but it's a different role with what the coach wants to make there with the decision.
"He made that decision for me to come off the bench for the five or six games that I played there and it worked well for the team I believe.
"The main reason was just to freshen me up and to use Tim Browne there to take a bit of the whack out of me getting bashed in the first 20-30 minutes.
"It was a different role and I'd obviously like to be starting and we'll just see what happens."
It's now been four years since Campbell-Gillard came off the bench for the Junior Kangaroos against the Junior Kiwis, and he's been reunited with his 'bench buddy' from that day, Jake Trbojevic, in the current Kangaroos camp.
One of seven players in line to make their Test debut for the Kangaroos during the World Cup, Campbell-Gillard is still coming to grips with the company he is now keeping.
"I'm very intimidated by it. I never thought it would come this quick," said the two-time City Origin representative.
"You've got Cam Smith as captain here, honestly I'm still pinching myself to try and realise that I'm actually in this team.
"I'm so nervous, I get sweaty hands just thinking about it.
"You see all the players around you, the 150, 200-plus gamers and I've only been playing for three seasons in the NRL and to see all these different type of players, the majority of them who have played Origin and won grand finals…
"I've always had a goal and a dream to play for Australia but for it to come this quick is a dream come true and I'll never forget this."
This article first appeared on NRL.com