WHEN the siren sounded on Jamaica’s first-ever international rugby league win last November, Dane Campbell reflected on a lot of things. On how much work he had put into making this happen – and on how close he came to never seeing it.
Campbell is the 28-year-old former Newcastle lower grade halfback who confused the hell out of his Knights clubmates half a decade ago by deciding to play a key role in starting rugby league in a number of countries around the world – while still attempting to eek out an NRL career.
Thanks largely to him, Jamaica made its international bow 18 months ago against the United States, losing 37-22, before breaking through for victory against Canada (32-12) at last year’s Atlantic Cup in Florida. Now he is owner and chief executive of our sport’s most exotic team – the Jamaica-based Hurricanes who will enter whichever American competition is still running in 2013.
But less than 12 months ago, the committed and passionate Campbell, who started 2010 captain-coach of the Noosa Pirates, had an experience which would change his life.
“I sustained a head knock in a game – it was actually a king hit,” he tells Rugby League Week. “From that, I suffered bleeding on the brain and I was forced to have an emergency craniotomy to drain the blood away from the brain. It was certain a very scary time of my life.
“I had an episode where I lost all movement in the right-hand side of my body. It’s probably equivalent to having a stroke.
“The doctor’s asking me questions. He’s saying what’s my wife’s number, to ring her, and I knew what her number was and I could understand what I wanted to say but the only thing that was coming out of my mouth was ‘0,0,0,0’.”
Campbell has now made a full recovery but was forced to retire from playing – which just gave him more time for his work as a global pied piper for rugby league. Having helped Greece, Lebanon and Malta as far back as 2004, he figured that if using Aussie players works for those countries then why not do the same for Jamaica using lads from the UK?
The result at the Atlantic Cup was a team made up almost evenly of players from the UK with Jamaican heritage and domestic players from the fledgling local competition – a team which performed more than credibly in losing 36-26 to the US before beating the Canucks. But what makes a kid in his 20s with a playing career in front of him decide to start organising jerseys, tours and sponsors for a country on the other side of the planet?
“My passion for international rugby league was probably born going to Fiji as a 16, 17 year old,” he explains. “Seeing these monsters of men, athletically gifted, and thinking to myself, ‘how come they don’t play at a higher level? How come we don’t see more Fijians playing rugby league?’
“It’s probably to my detriment from a playing point of view that I did dedicate so much time to the cause. I probably sacrificed doing extra sessions because of my passion to assist other people. I look back on it now and think I possibly could have waited a couple more years before I got into it but by no means do I have any regrets.”
So committed to Jamaican Rugby League is Campbell that he plans to sponsor ten young players through school in the next 12 months He did plan to bring two out Noosa this year but was stymied by red tape surrounding visas, instead importing Canadian Cameron grace.
The two Jamaicans who stayed home, Romain Campbell – who is 19-years-old and already weighs 130kg – and second rower Tyronie Row – works in a morgue sewing corpses together – are about to become the Hurricanes’ first fulltime players.
And in two years, they’ll be travelling to away games in America every second week if all goes according to plan. “I spent a lot of time with what are now the two factions in America and both were very interested in having a Jamaican team,” he said. “I’m just hoping they can sort things out and come back together again.”.
HG and Roy can forget Papua New Guinea. We’re about to see ‘reggae rugby league’ for real.
Become a member of the Hurricanes and help Dane get his club off the ground at http://www.hurricanesrugbyleague.com.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK