Rugby League can be a cruel game, just ask Toby Rudolf.
One day after he signed an NRL contract with the Cronulla Sharks with the hope of making his debut in 2019, he tore his ACL playing for Redcliffe in the State Championship game.
He’s spent the most part of Sharks career in rehabilitation, much further away from the 2019 debut he’d hoped for.
The mental demons associated with an ACL recovery are incredibly tough for a young player to handle but Rudolf was able to cope thanks to the support around him.
“There were some dark days,” Rudolf said.
“There’s no way I could have done it without my mum, she’s been an absolute rock for the whole year.
“The people that are here, the friends I’ve got here, a lot goes into a big injury like that; it’s not just you by yourself, it’s really the whole team behind you and I can’t thank them enough.
“I signed the contract the day before to come to the Sharks, everything was looking up; I was moving back to Sydney after a year away from home and I was on top of the world, but it can be a cruel game and definitely was a reality check.”
Rudolf is officially back on the field and playing finals footy. He played his third game for Newtown in the Canterbury Cup last week where they eliminated Mounties following a stint in the Ron Massey Cup.
While Rudolf credits the Sharks staff for a successful return to the field, he took it upon himself to get a job and purchase a dog to help with his headspace throughout the recovery.
“I got a job at a gym, I work at F45 in Matraville and that has really kept me sane,” he said.
“At the start I was just sitting around at home with nothing to do, I did get a dog which was pretty cool, and she kept me busy.
“Those things kept me sane and made me realise there’s more to life than footy, that’s for sure.”
While playing NRL is the long-term goal for Rudolf, his immediate challenge will be trying to win a premiership with the Newtown Jets.
He played big minutes last week against Mounties, playing in three quarters of a fast game where he also scored a try.
“I’m still sucking seagulls, it’s pretty obvious from the start,” Rudolf said.
“The rehab staff at the Sharks have been unreal with me, I’ve done plenty of fitness, I could run a marathon but after three hit-ups I’m absolutely gone.
“I’m trying my best out there but it’s definitely a step up to what I’ve been playing.”
It was a modest answer from a big forward who has just played 60 minutes in a Canterbury Cup NSW finals match.
He also has averaged 140 metres per game in the three games that he’s played and managed to break 15 tackles. He’s helped the scoreboard tick over with a try last week and a try assist in his Jets debut in Round 23.
Rudolf hopes that 2020 can be the year he pulls on an NRL jersey for the first time.
“Next year I want to get the debut,” he said.
“I’ve been working towards it every day since I was born pretty much.
“I’m getting on a bit, I’m 24 next year, it’s pretty old to not have debuted so that’s what I’m focused on and that’s what I’m trying to get.”