Only a month ago, Dylan Hill couldn't have imagined himself starting for the Dubbo Rhinos.
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Just the thought of playing rugby union would have been hard to believe.
But, that is where Hill now finds himself and after helping the Rhinos defeat the New Holland Cup's defending premiers on Saturday, he's targeting a run to premiership glory in the black and gold.
After battling persistent knee injuries for a number of years, Hill had planned on making his rugby league comeback with Dubbo CYMS in 2023.
He completed pre-season with the Fishies but an ongoing registration dispute with his former club, the Narromine Jets, left him unable to play and in a state of limbo.
With a number of family members playing union at the Rhinos, Hill took the chance to play some sport again after so much of his past decade has been ruined by injury and COVID cancellations.
"I was just happy coming off the bench. I told them I'd come off the bench and then today I played a bit of number eight and in the centres too," Hill said after the Parkes win.
"Things didn't work out how we planned but the Rhinos welcomed me onboard and I'm just happy to be playing footy.
"It's a different code but I'm still very happy."
Hill was among the try-scorers on Saturday as the Rhinos defeated the Parkes Boars 28-13 at a wet Apex Oval.
With rain falling steadily throughout the match, it became a physical battle between the two imposing forward packs and the performance of Hill was key.
Having impressed off the bench during round two's 60-0 drubbing of Bathurst CSU, Hill was given a start by coach Doug Sandry on Saturday and didn't let the coach down.
He went on a number of rampaging runs while his defence also was pleasing the coach, especially given Hill's limited rugby experience.
"I played two years in high school just for some school footy," Hill laughed.
"This is my second game so I'm still learning the game as I go but obviously they're happy with what I'm doing and I'm enjoying it.
"They're a great club, a welcoming club and family-orientated. I've got a few family members on mum's side and dad's side here."
Given the 31-year-old's history with injuries - he's had multiple knee reconstructions - he knows he may not have many years of playing footy of any kind left.
Getting the chance to simply be back on the field is pleasing but it's made more enjoyable by the presence of family members like Travis Hill and Kieran Hill.
"It is special playing with your family. I don't have many years left so it's good to be out there," he said.
Given Hill completed a four-month pre-season with a CYMS rugby league side renowned for it's focus on fitness, he arrived at the Rhinos in relatively strong health.
Getting the match fitness is another thing, but he got through roughly 70 minutes of Saturday's bruising contest.
It was Parkes who started the better at Apex Oval after the Rhinos fumbled the kick-off.
Five minutes in a lineout win led the defending premiers to a try for Lewis Gravatt and the boot of Kiwi newcomer George Taylor made it 7-0.
Slowly the Rhinos started to get into the contest and after a strong charge by Hill got them close to the line on 11 minutes, Jack Raikabula crashed over to help level it up.
A Taylor penalty got the Boars back in front before the 20 minute mark and he kicked another on 32 minutes, but that was sandwiched by tries for the Rhinos.
The first of those came when Parkes dropped the ball while on attack and Amini Rokaci scooped it up and raced 70m to score.
Just before half-time, Hill got his deserved try when he went on another powerful run and dragged a number of Parkes players over the line.
The hosts led 19-13 at the break and the lead grew to nine points when Dale Smith booted a penalty shortly after the restart.
The Dubbo side lost John Whippy to a yellow card soon after but Parkes couldn't make it count as the match turned into a grinding contest dominated by the forwards.
While points were hard to come by and both sides became frustrated by plenty of niggle in the match, Smith converted three more penalties to complete an impressive second half in which the Boars were kept scoreless.
"I was surprised how physical it was but in the wet weather it was a forwards' game and I think our forwards really held their own and we stuck it to them," Hill said, before speaking about his try.
"I crossed the line last week but they claimed it was a forward pass so it was definitely nice to get across by myself and be off the nudie.
"This dad bod doesn't want to run around at the end of the year. It was definitely nice," he laughed.
Boars newcomer Taylor said it was a frustrating loss but added there was no real concern within the Boars about their chances this season as the the new-look team is currently dealing with a number of early season injury worries.
"We were a wee bit individual and weren't quite playing as a team," Taylor said of Saturday's performance.
"There's a bit to work on but, other than that, it was a pretty strapped together team and we've been short on numbers the past week.
"I think we'll improve a lot.
"We had a good win last week over Narromine and we'll be promising towards the end of the season when a few of the boys are coming back."
For Hill, rugby league may have been the plan but union is now the focus.
Feeling happy and settled in the 15-man game, the experienced campaigner is now eagerly looking forward to the rest of the season.
"I've had a talk to them and I'm ready to commit," he said.
"I'm happy and I want to play out the season with them ans try to win that premiership here.
"That's the end goal."
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