After suffering a serious knee injury earlier this year Joe Nash thought there was no chance he'd get the chance to wear the Central West colours in 2021.
It was at the Kiama Sevens tournament in February where Nash ruptured his posterior cruciate ligament and it couldn't have come at much worse of a time as he was preparing for his first season with the Dubbo Kangaroos.
But after avoiding surgery and getting through plenty of rehab Nash not only returned to the field in just three months, he made an immediate impact as a Kangaroo.
His recent form hasn't gone unnoticed and Central West Blue Bulls coach Dean Oxley had enough faith in the former Parkes Boar and Bathurst Bulldog to name him at fullback for this weekend's Caldwell Cup defence at Tamworth.
"I didn't think I'd be playing this year, coming back from injury. I'm surprised by the progress I've made in the few weeks I've been back," Nash said.
"I honestly didn't think I'd be back on the field but it seems to be holding up well.
"The pace seems to lessen a bit every year but I don't know if that's just the injury to blame."
Nash might laugh about his speed at the back these days but the premiership winner has been a handy addition to the Roos lineup in recent weeks and is one of the many experienced campaigners who will be on deck for Central West at this weekend's country championships.
He's one of three Roos in the squad which will be in action at Tamworth alongside Filisione Pauta and Will Archer.
Nash and Pauta were both part of the side that won the 2019 title - no championships were contested last year due to COVID - while this weekend will mark Archer's Blue Bulls debut.
"It's good to see 'Arch' there," Nash said of the hard-running No. 8.
"He throws himself around like a javelin, all over the place, and Fili is a bit of a cannonball running around the backline.
"I've played with Fili a few times over the years but this is the first time with Arch (for Central West). He gives it a fair go."
I don't think there's any reason why we can't go over there and take it out again.Joe Nash
Nash made his Blue Bulls debut in 2012 and played at the championships again the following year and while there's been plenty of injury battles along the way he worked his way back to play at the last two country titles under Oxley.
The side heads into this weekend's campaign as defending champions and that standing gives the Blue Bulls the easiest draw of any side playing at Tamworth.
Illawarra will face Hunter in round one while Central Coast squares off with Far North Coast.
Central West won't play their first game until 1.20pm Saturday - they'll face the best of the losers from that first round. Win that clash and they'll advance to the decider at 2.20pm Sunday.
"We didn't get the chance to have a trial match this year but there's been a number of blokes turning up to the sessions over the last few months and 'Fox' (Oxley) has put together a decent squad," Nash said.
"I don't think there's any reason why we can't go over there and take it out again."
If Central West is to claim country glory again this weekend, Nash's work at the back will undoubtedly be key.
With exciting playmakers Mahe Fangupo and Shahid Khalfan pulling the string in the halves there's the expectation the Blue Bulls will create plenty of attacking chances and Nash is determined to be in the thick of the action.
"My philosophy is to be wherever the ball is. That way you get your hands on it and can run it or you can clean out that ruck," he said.
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