Hill bows out of The NRL Rookie
Rugby union convert Gary-John Hill made it to the final five of The NRL Rookie, but was cut by head coach Brad Fittler in Episode 8 of the series on Tuesday.
Auckland-born Hill has always been an avid follower of the NRL Telstra Premiership but had an unlikely sporting upbringing for a potential rugby league player.
"I used to play a lot of rugby union when I was younger. I played for Hora Hora in Whangarei because my dad played for that club," Hill told NRL.com.
"But I stopped playing when I was about 13 or 14 because I started getting into golf.
"I had to choose between the two and I was really good at golf. My parents also pushed me towards golf."
Hill went from club rugby to golf clubs and was so good at the game that he earned a scholarship to Rotorua Boys' High School which has one of the best school golf academies in the world. He went on to make New Zealand golf teams and world junior teams. But his sporting path took another turn when he moved to Australia aged 22 and took up rugby union again.
Years later when The NRL Rookie was advertised, Hill didn't want to miss his chance at playing the game closest to his heart.
"I've always loved rugby league and thought I'd love to have a crack at playing professionally," he said.
"It's always something I've aspired to - I've always loved watching NRL. I thought it would be pretty amazing to play at that level and I thought I'd back myself and give it a decent shot."
Once on the show, Hill proved to be one of the best forwards in the final 14 but found it difficult to transition out of old rugby union habits.
"I think I really struggled to start off with. I had to work really hard off the field in terms of game sense and game knowledge. I'd been out of rugby union for a couple of years before going on the show so I was a bit rusty with footy in general," Hill said.
"Coming into league I had so much to learn, but as it went on I picked up a lot more and I just wish I had more time.
"The coaching was awesome. It was so cool to be with guys like Mark Geyer, Brad Fittler and Adrian Lam. I formed good relationships with all three of them. They're amazing guys and they've got big hearts because they tried to help each of us as much as they could and didn't play favourites."
After leaving the show Hill went to the Cook Islands and played rugby league for three months but had to come back to Australia to continue his working career.
"I do fly-in, fly-out work in north-Western Australia doing four weeks on and one week off so I haven't been able to regularly play footy at all," Hill said.
"I'd love to get back into playing rugby league. If I got a good opportunity to go back to it I'd definitely chase it, but life still goes on."
One of the biggest highlights for Hill on The NRL Rookie was attending the 2015 NRL Grand Final and seeing North Queensland defeat Brisbane in golden point extra time.
"Growing up we always watched State of Origin – that was massive in our household. We love the Warriors because we're from Auckland but I've always gone for the North Queensland Cowboys," Hill said.
"Some of my favourite players are Jason Taumalolo and James Tamou and I've got heaps of love for Johnathan Thurston as well – he's just a freak.
"The grand final was ridiculous. I thought we didn't have it. It was amazing just to be there to watch it live."
And does he think the Cowboys can go back-to-back in 2016?
"I think the Sharks are going to be really hard to beat but I do think it's going to be between the Cowboys and the Sharks," Hill said.
"I think because the Cowboys have the finals experience behind them, they've been there and done that so they might pull through."
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AUSTRALIAN BROADCAST DETAILS:
Each episode will air five times during the week on free to air television across the Nine Network:
• PREMIERE – Tuesday – GO! 7.30PM (SYD/MEL/BRIS)
• ENCORE 1 - Wednesday - CH9 10.30PM (SYD/BRIS)
• ENCORE 2 - Saturday - CH9 1PM (BRIS)
• ENCORE 3 - Sunday - CH9 2.30PM (SYD)
• ENCORE 4 - Monday - GO! 11.30PM (SYD/MEL/BRIS/ADE/PER)
Please note: these time may vary from week to week so be sure to check your local guides.