Kiwis forward Greg Eastwood eyes Anzac test
His injury behind him, Greg Eastwood aims to put his best foot forward and solidify his place in the Canterbury Bulldogs team - and in the process push for an Anzac test recall.
A 17-cap international, Eastwood has endured a frustrating six months. Firstly, he was on the outer circle of the Kiwis' World Cup squad. Then an injury in the Bulldogs' final pre-season trial delayed his NRL season debut until last Friday against the Sydney Roosters.
Eastwood, who played only the pool game against France at the World Cup before being confined to training duties, has been named on the Bulldogs' interchange bench for their clash with the Warriors at Eden Park on Sunday. He hopes to up his involvement after a 28-minute, second-half stint against the reigning premiers last weekend.
"If I can produce my best hopefully I can get another callup," said the 27-year-old utility, looking ahead to the annual Anzac fixture in Sydney on May 2.
Eastwood has been a regular in the Kiwis' setup under coach Stephen Kearney and would have featured in the corresponding match in Canberra last year, however, he lost his father, Dale, to cancer shortly after the team assembled.
The father of three didn't dwell on that devastation and was philosophical when Alex Glenn, Elijah Taylor and Frank-Paul Nu'uausala were preferred alongside established second rowers Simon Mannering and Sonny Bill Williams at the World Cup.
"I was hoping to play a few more games but Stephen Kearney wanted a few others guys," Eastwood told Fairfax Media.
"I was just happy to be there and be part of it."
Eastwood, who is utilised in the middle of the park for club and country, was also unable to displace the first-choice propping rotation, meaning he's keen to mix it with current and former Kiwis front rowers Ben Matulino and Sam Rapira.
"It's definitely another chance to press for selection so hopefully I can get one over them," said Eastwood, who recorded 17 tackles against the Roosters, but was limited to five runs for 46 metres on a sodden Allianz Stadium turf.
Eastwood and the remainder of the Bulldogs' Kiwis Cup contingent of Frank Pritchard, Sam Kasiano and Krisnan Inu were allowed to join the pre-season late in mid-January - an apparent curse as the quartet have all been hampered by injuries in 2014.
Inu (jaw) and Kasiano (foot) are making their comebacks in NSW Cup - effectively ruling them out of the Anzac test while Pritchard has been named on the Bulldogs six-man interchange bench so may front the Warriors.
Eastwood's pre-season was progressing smoothly until the final hit-out against the Melbourne Storm in late February.
He limped off with the painful heel injury and could return to action in the NSW Cup only a fortnight ago - hardly ideal preparation for a comeback against a side containing Williams, Nu'uausala and Kiwis World Cup prop Sam Moa - but he relished the exposure.
"I was just glad to be back in the squad, they've been playing well. It's a tough team to get into now."
The Bulldogs are handily-placed in second with a 3-win 2-loss record and approach the round-six clash with the competition's stingiest defence, having conceded just 60 points so far.
In contrast the Warriors have conceded 138 points to be last on the defensive rankings.
Eastwood knew they could still be dangerous - despite a preparation dominated by the demise of coach Matthew Elliott and the associated dramas between co-owners Eric Watson and Sir Owen Glenn.
Eastwood noted many teams rebounded under a new coach, and also pointed to the results so far in 2014 when discounting any thought of complacency.
"There haven't been too many favourites win this year," he said.