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Love of league keeps Eastwood going years after NRL swansong

Greg Eastwood played more than 250 NRL games, appeared in a grand final and even won a World Cup.

Although he retired from the NRL in 2018, Eastwood, 34, still laces up the boots for the Glebe Dirty Reds in the Ron Massey Cup.

"When I finished the NRL I still wanted to play. I do love the game and Newtown gave me the opportunity [in 2019 to play in the NSW]," Eastwood said before a midweek evening training session at Henson Park, in Sydney’s inner west.

"Then the following year I was umming and ahhing if I wanted to come back and I got a call from the Glebe coach Aaron [Zammit].

"He said if I was still looking to run around, I was more than welcome."

Rugby league has always been a part of Eastwood’s life, however now with first grade firmly in his rear-view mirror, he is still able to continue in the game he loves, in the NSWRL lower grades.

Greg Eastwood is still going strong with the famous Glebe Dirty Reds.
Greg Eastwood is still going strong with the famous Glebe Dirty Reds. ©dirtyreds.com.au

Not even the diagnosis of an irregular heartbeat in 2017 slowed him down.

"[Rugby league] was all I’d known since high school. Straight out of school and straight into full time NRL … but I knew that my time had come up and to be honest, I was grateful for one year in the NRL so to play 14 years in the top grade, over 200 games, was a dream come true."

He made his Telstra Premiership debut at the Broncos as an 18-year-old in 2005, playing 64 games across three seasons.

Greg Eastwood hits it up for the Bulldogs against Penrith in 2018.
Greg Eastwood hits it up for the Bulldogs against Penrith in 2018. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

After representing New Zealand in their 2008 World Cup-winning team, he moved to the Bulldogs and played the rest of his NRL career there, across two stints at the club either side of a season at Leeds in the Super League in 2010.

In 2018 at the age of 31, with his Bulldogs contract coming to an end, a decision had to made - continue playing, or hang up the boots.

In his signature softly spoken Kiwi accent, it is clear he has a deep love for the game that won't subside any time soon.

"[When my NRL contract ended] there were thoughts to go over to England, but I’ve got five kids that are settled here and don’t want to travel that far and disrupt their lives, so I really had to think about it."

With those family commitments firmly at the front of his mind, Eastwood made the post-career transition to full-time work, balancing that with playing part-time.

"I work for myself. I bought a truck and I subcontract to a company delivering home appliances. It’s a great business - they look after you. I do that Monday to Friday and then turn up on game day."

Watching him prior to the training session starting, it is apparent he is no less committed to do whatever is necessary to keep playing, spending his time stretching while younger teammates are thick in pre-training banter.

Greg Eastwood with his family after his last NRL game in 2018.
Greg Eastwood with his family after his last NRL game in 2018. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

When the session kicks into gear, Eastwood runs sprints with the other forwards, head down, all business.

He’s not as fast as he once was, but his body is still up to rigours of the physically demanding sport. Eastwood doesn’t carry the physical scars that often come with a life in the forwards.

“I’ve been lucky not to have shoulder recons. I’ve had a couple of knee surgeries done, but nothing major, which I am grateful for and pretty lucky.”

Eastwood has also discovered a new way to contribute to the game by acting as a mentor to his younger teammates.

Greg Eastwood is loving the camaraderie at Glebe training.
Greg Eastwood is loving the camaraderie at Glebe training. ©dirtyreds.com.au

“It’s a great opportunity to give back to these younger kids coming through. That’s my motivation right now. If one or two can reach that top level, then that’s a great result for me.

“I’ve been through some of the best coaches in the game - Wayne Bennett, Des Hasler. Having them coach me, I’ve learned a lot and I can use that to guide some of the young kids coming through, anyway I can help them. It’s a great opportunity.”

And while helping up-and-comers reach their on-field potential is a motivator, he is also focused on being a support for those that might feel they don’t have one.

“A lot goes on off the field that people don’t know about and it’s hard for a lot of these kids some days to adapt and, if they don’t make it they’re down on themselves, they don’t have anyone to turn to and if I can be that shoulder, if someone needs to talk about what’s going on off the field, then I am happy to do that.”

The benefits of having a seasoned first-grader in the team aren’t exclusively for the younger players. Zammit is also happy to lean on Eastwood’s experience to help him coach the Dirty Reds.

“He’s had a big impact. He spends time talking to the younger forwards, the halves even. He just brings his experience to them. He's like having another assistant coach around really. It makes my job easier.

“Being able to calm the players down when they looked stressed in the sheds. He just brings a real calming influence to everything as he’s obviously been there and done that for a long period of time.”

I love the challenge, being an old guy.

Greg Eastwood

For Eastwood though, it is still all business when the whistle blows and that desire to win burns brightly.

"I love the challenge, being an old guy. The young guys can run around for ever, but you know, whatever comes I am just trying to be there for my team and do whatever it takes."

So when the body finally tells him to stop, how does he plan to stay involved?

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"A couple nights a week helping, coaching, I’d love to do that. Just whatever I can do really. I’m helping out my kids’ footy team at the moment and the kids love it, and I guess all the parents do too, an ex-NRL player teaching their kids.

"That’s what it’s all about. You’ve got to remember where you came from, where you started, who helped you. It's not easy, getting to the top without that guidance, so to give back once it’s all done would be great."

Eastwood will once again defy Father Time at Lidcome Oval on Sunday when the Glebe Dirty Reds, who play their home games at fellow foundation club Newtown's famous Henson Oval, take on another of the 1908 originals, the Wests Magpies.