South West Rocks’ Sam Needs kept his boyhood dream of playing professional rugby union in the back of his mind during his darkest days in 2014.
Needs struggled to get on the field for three seasons with ankle surgery and other niggling injuries hampering his form leading him to question his own ability.
“The end of 2014 was a real rough patch. I asked myself whether I was just kidding myself or whether I could make it happen,” Needs said.
Three years later, and after training with the Waratahs squad since January, he is hopeful he will take the field in either of the final two regular season games.
However, Needs didn’t follow the traditional path to success, he was constantly overlooked as a junior for representative sides and played in lower grades of rugby clubs until he caught his break two years ago.
On the back of his first full season in the top grade for Shute Shield side Eastwood in 2015, the South West Rocks Gaolers junior represented the Greater Sydney Rams in the National Rugby Championship competition.
The side won one of their eight matches but Needs’ efforts at prop were recognised and he was offered the opportunity to join a Waratahs training clinic in November and December.
The door to Super Rugby opened wider at the beginning of 2016.
“There were injuries to a couple of players in the Waratahs forward pack and I was offered the opportunity to train with the main squad,” Needs said.
“I thought back to the times when I had been struggling in third grade competitions, was banged up with injuries and how I would kill for that to be behind me and for an opportunity like this to come, so I took it with both hands.”
The 26-year-old trained with the side for the next two months and he was given his first taste of professional rugby at one of the highest levels, but he was far from satisfied.
“It just gave me that extra hunger to chase my dreams and not give up,” he said.
Needs returned to Eastwood and went on to represent the NSW Country Eagles in the NRC tournament last season.
The side won the minor premiership but lost 20-16 against Perth Spirit in the grand final.
He was rewarded for strong performances and signed a supplementary squad contract with the Waratahs for 2017.
He trained “day in and day out” with the Waratahs and he was named on the bench for the Waratahs round seven clash against the Hurricanes in Wellington but was “incredibly disappointed” not to make it on the field that night.
There are two matches remaining in the Super Rugby regular season and with the Waratahs chances of reaching the finals dashed, Needs is hopeful he will get the call up.
"It would cap off a remarkable year for me, it would mean so much,” Needs said. “My dream was to always follow in the footsteps of my idol Matt Burke and pull on a Waratahs jersey.”
Needs played in pre-season matches for the Waratahs and represented the side in an exhibition match against the Japanese champions the Suntory Sungoliath on June 11.
The Waratahs host the Jaguares on July 8 before their season concludes the following week in Perth against the Western Force.
Needs is uncertain on what the future holds but he is hopeful he will remain with the Waratahs next season.
“I have taken a huge step forward with my game this year and I would only continue to develop if I stay with the Waratahs squad,” Needs said.
“My scrummaging and ball skills have improved.
“If you don't take your game to the next level then you will get caught out pretty quickly.”
He has been left in limbo due to the Australian Rugby Union still deliberating on which Australian Super Rugby team will be axed for the competition for next season.
It has put a hault to any contract talk between Needs and the Waratahs.
Needs will play for the NSW Country Eagles in the NRC later this year.
South West Rocks’ Sam Needs’ journey to the Waratahs
- Attended St Joseph’s Primary School in Kempsey.
- Began playing for the South West Rocks Gailors at the age of nine.
- Loved rugby from the beginning, played in the outside backs – predominately fullback.
- Began boarding at St Joseph’s College in Sydney in 2003.
- At the age of 15 discovered “food and the gym” and moved from the backs into the forwards. Played hooker for the 16A team in year 11 and the 3rd XV in year 12.
- Completed high school in 2008, moved to Canberra to play for the ACT Colts team in 2010 and 2011.
- Returned to play his final two games for the South West Rocks Gailors Men’s side in 2010.
- Moved position from hooker to loosehead or his preferred position as tighthead prop.
- 2012 moved back to Sydney and began playing for Eastwood. Tore ligaments in his ankle a couple of games into the season and missed the rest of the year due to the injury.
- Re-injured his ankle early in the 2013 season and was forced to have surgery. Returned in the backend of the campaign and finished the season strongly, earning a starting spot in third grade and Eastwood went on to win the grand final.
- Started 2014 hoping to push his way into first grade but had niggling injuries throughout the year. Entered his darkest times and contemplated giving up his dream of playing professional rugby union. His mum and dad encouraged him to pursue the thing he really wanted and he decided to stick at it.
- An opportunity opened up to play first grade in 2015 with top players earning selection in Super Rugby sides. They went on to win the Shute Shield that year and Sam described the experience as “awesome”. He played in the NYC team the Greater Sydney Rams and was selected to join a training clinic organised by the Waratahs for excelling players in the NYC competition.
- Injuries to the Waratahs forwards at the start of 2016 opened the door for Needs to train with the squad.
- Played for Eastwood in Shute Shield and the NSW Country Eagles, fulfilling another goal of his after watching the country side face the British and Irisih Lions in Coffs Harbour with his father in 2001. The Eagles were minor premiers but lost 20-16 in the final against the Perth Spirit.
- January 2017, signed a supplementary squad contract with the Waratahs for 2017.
- Played in trial matches and was named on the bench for the Waratahs against the Hurricanes in round seven but did not take the field.
- Represented the Waratahs for the first time in a professional exhibition match against the Japanese champions the Suntory Sungoliath on June 11.
- Currently plays for the Warringah Rugby Club in the Shute Shield competition.