Panthers forward Reagan Campbell-Gillard.

Late bloomer Campbell-Gillard ready for Dragons

Too often in rugby league, we hear how a player had a football in their hand at the age of five and was destined to make it at the elite level as they developed through the junior systems. 

‌For Panthers prop forward Reagan Campbell-Gillard his journey to the NRL was similar, but it was at a much older age that he began to purely focus on the game he has now made a name for himself in.

The Windsor junior excelled in athletics and was a gifted swimmer at school, but ultimately, it was down to one last opportunity for the Fijian native to show Penrith what he could do.

"I did a lot of sports when I grew up… I was never happy in the one sport," Campbell-Gillard told NRL.com

"I did athletics, soccer, swimming, hockey and obviously footy.

"I was going to go into the Army prior to when I was 17. 

"I thought I would give it one more go [in rugby league] and if it didn’t work out I would need to go do something else with my life."

Multiple injuries including a serious back injury sustained against the Titans in August last year meant Campbell-Gillard missed the Panthers' charge into the finals, but the forward is adamant his days on the sidelines are over.

"I had a few injuries last year which was a bit upsetting," he said.

"But they say things happen in threes and I had three last year so hopefully no more this year."

The 23-year-old has not looked back and continues to catch the eye of representative selectors with his strong build and athletic skills for a prop forward, after playing two games for City Origin since making his debut in 2015, and more recently the All Stars clash in February.  

"I'm pretty happy with where I'm sitting at the moment on their radar, which is a nice eye opener for me," Campbell-Gillard said.

"It (All Stars game) was a very good experience, just learning things off Mal Meninga and seeing what he was like as a coach was excellent. 

"Whatever comes up comes up. I just want to focus on building as a player and as a teammate for the Panthers and try to build a good season."

Despite heading to the season opener against St George Illawarra as strong favourites, the Panthers are not taking their Round 1 clash lightly, with Campbell-Gillard pointing out that trial form means nothing and that his side need to be switched on immediately.

"They can come out and do some freakish things and they're strong across the whole park with a strong forward pack plus being at home on a Saturday," he said.

"They've got Cameron McInnes in the No.9 jersey now and Dugan at fullback so we're expecting a very hard game and all we can do is prepare for it.  

"It should be a cracker of a game and I'm expecting big things from them."