Winning a Round 1 debut in your maiden professional season is a special achievement, but for Rhys Van Nek, it proved to be the beginning of a rollercoaster first season of Super Rugby.
Minutes after running on to Suncorp Stadium in front of his family and friends, the former Brisbane City star suffered a major hamstring injury, ruling him out for the remainder of Super Rugby AU.
Not to be denied, the rampaging front-rower fought his way back to claim senior selection in the Rebels final two Trans-Tasman matches, impressing his new teammates with his resilience, determination, and professionalism during a frustrating three-month block of rehabilitation.
Fortunately, Van Nek admitted was able to see “the forest from the trees”, embracing the setback as an opportunity for both personal and professional growth.
“It was difficult, but I approached that period with the right mindset and was able to claw back to playing the last 2 games of the Trans-Tasman, which enabled me to continue growing, and I think that was really valuable for my first-year,” said Van Nek.
“Finishing the season strongly was really important to me, and I think it will hold me in good stead coming into this year, as I look to continue growing and proving myself at this level.”
The chance to debut in your first Super Rugby season is rare, but the ability to become a consistent contributor at senior level is an achievement elusive to most.
Despite finishing his maiden season strongly, playing matches back-to-back matches against the Chiefs and the Crusaders, the level-headed loosehead prop’s expectations remain the season heading into 2022.
“I’ve just learnt that at this level you’ve got to have intent, you’ve got to compete for everything.”
“At club level you might just think your spot is secured, but at this level that’s not the case.
“Guys like Cabous Eloff, Pone and Cameron Orr – everyday we’re in the trenches together pushing each other and battling pretty harshly at times.
“Every session and every rep – that’s what you’ve got to do that to make yourself and the team better.”
But Van Nek’s drive for making an impact extends far beyond the rugby field, with the young Rebel following in his partner’s footsteps to contribute to ‘Share the Dignity’ – an Australian women’s charity that works to assist the lives of vulnerable women experiencing homelessness, domestic violence, or those who are just doing it tough.
After seeking to raise donations recently, Van Nek was blown away by the support he received from his Rebels’ teammates, who provided over $250 with countless messages of support and awareness.
“My partner asked me if it was a possibility if we could spread the awareness to some of the boys and we ended up raising over $250 with plenty of support, so that was a massive effort.
“Someone even anonymously donated $100, which was huge and really special to receive.
“Acts like that says a lot about the character of the group and the culture, which is big at our Club, so it was pleasing to see everybody get around.”