With a difficult season for the Parramatta Eels it is easy for fans to feel disgruntled, confused, frustrated or plain sad. For the players that pull on the blue and gold jersey and run onto the green grass of ANZ stadium, the emotion is much deeper. They are reminded of the first time they held a football and the privilege they now hold in representing the Parramatta Eels. The emotions you feel as a fan are only magnified for the players. One of these players being 26 year old Cameron King. A Wagga Wagga native living in the always eventful Western Suburb of Parramatta with quite a story to tell. An exciting story of a King with many triumphs and unfortunately just as many misfortunes - it even features Dragons.
Every good story starts with “Once Upon a Time…” and King’s is no different. At a young and impressionable age of 4, Cameron found himself with the footy in his hands and never looked back. The game has been in his heart for as long as he can remember but he didn’t start thinking that the game could become his life until he was about 13 or 14. Growing as a player he started to realise that he held onto potential to play at a high level and make the game he once just loved, a career. As a young player it is easy to be influenced by star players already in the league and this is even easier when you find yourself related. As many current players, an admiration for Brad Fittler was formed and with Greg Alexander as his brother-in-law he was lucky enough to watch them play close hand. Fittler and Alexander were influential in King’s admiration but the player that stands out to him the most is Sonny Bill Williams. He doesn’t shy away from calling SBW an idol in his life from the age of 14 and still currently. Watching these star players only fuelled a passion for the game in King’s heart and when he was 15 years old this passion became a reality when he signed with the St George Dragons. King was young and had a bright future ahead of himself however; the cruel game of rugby league had some obstacles for him to cross first.
King was granted the opportunity to prove himself as he made his way through the junior ranks for St George and finally completing an NRL preseason in 2010. After a long and tiresome preseason, King took the field for the first trial of the season only to damage his shoulder during the game. The first game for the year and his dream of a debut seemed all but dead. However; motivation, hard work and perseverance went into overdrive and in the last game of the regular season, King made his NRL debut at the age of 18. The Dragons went on to win the grand final that season and having the opportunity to fulfil a childhood dream with the squad is something King will forever cherish and carry with him for the rest of his career.
Unfortunately the shoulder was only the first of a string of injuries that King would have to endure. A constantly frustrating experience that leaves him cursing his body as it lets him down in moments he most could have established himself as a player. In those moments when the physical body fails this is when King’s mental strength has to kick in. A constant hunger to fight against adversity keeps him going however, in the darkest moments that the game provides there were moments he did consider quitting he admits. He describes it as an emotional rollercoaster - fighting an injury, incapable of completing every day activities and struggling through the difficulties that training every day already offers and having to stay positive through it all. It’s hard, he can’t deny it. However, despite everything he knows that if you can fight through it all you will not only become a better player but also a better person.
King’s body bears many tattoos which all tell a different story however, one that sticks out the most is “never give up” across his chest. It’s a saying that he truly believes in and it’s the piece of advice he would offer any struggling player. Rugby league is a difficult sport and cracking the NRL is even harder. “It’s not going to be easy,” King pleads “You’ll have times of self doubt and question if you still want it but if you can have the mentality of doing whatever it takes to succeed then you will make it through anything.” He speaks these words to inspire however, those very words are what has kept him fighting time and time again. During the long and difficult 733 days he did not take a field in first grade NRL, he had to constantly remind himself to never give up and in the words of another king - trust the process. Clint Gutherson can empathise with King’s struggles as he too has suffered an unfair amount of injuries. When he went down last season with his second ACL tear, the phrase “trust the process” became almost viral amongst the boys in blue and gold. It’s a quote that resonates with King and keeps him pushing. It’s the understanding in life that not everything is in your control but a strong mentality, patience and belief in what you are doing will always contribute to inevitable success. Before King came to Parramatta, he suffered an ACL tear with the North Queensland Cowboys which was a huge blow. On the screen of his phone, he placed a copy of a quote which reads “I may not be there yet but I am closer than I was yesterday.” Words of motivation like this, and the guidance of close friend Kyle Stanley kept King level headed during times he easily could have lost control. He credits Stanley, who underwent 5 knee reconstructions during his time playing, for making these moments easier. Constant reminders of positivity keep King going and have made him a better player on the field and a better person off the field.
Despite the constant stream of negativity the media tends to throw - which King can’t help but laugh at sometimes - there is a tremendous amount of positivity and camaraderie at the Parramatta Eels. The playing squad, staff and the club as a whole is a family club which is highly committed to each other. He pleads for the fans to find humour in the rumours spread about the club and reassures that the Eels are a tight knit group and that is all that matters. I asked King who was the funniest player and who gets up to the most mischief to which he responded “Everyone enjoys a joke and a laugh…but Gutho,” then continuing “he’s a pretty funny character who’s always yelling and got something to say.” A King surrounded by jokers however, he crowns himself the biggest joker of them all. “All the boys play pranks just to keep things funny around the club [but] I’d say it might be me who’s the biggest pest. Always yelling out blokes names and hiding or putting shoes in someone else’s locker.” A club which makes you wish you were a fly on the wall in the locker room. In a crazy, serious world it’s a breath of fresh air to hear about a club that enjoys each other’s company. A lifestyle in which King claims to be “All a bit of fun.”
In round 2 of the 2018 season the Parramatta Eels suffered their second loss at the hands of the Manly Sea Eagles. A loss unlike no other, as the players went down 54-0. Worse than the final score line however, was a severe concussion King suffered when a tackle went wrong in the first half. Fans amongst the NRL held their breaths and social media was flooded with well wishes all involving a variation of the phrase “he doesn’t deserve this”. No fan enjoys seeing the injury of a player especially when they have already been victim to so many in their career but it hurts a lot more when the player left on the ground is one that many love and adore. Fans were concerned and shaken at the sight of King being stretchered off the field but much to our delight, he seemed to be okay later being seen walking in the locker rooms. After the game, as the players began to exit the Brookvale fortress now called Lottoland, fans waited in hopes of grabbing an autograph or picture with their favourite players. Cameron King exited the sheds looking worse for wear. This was a player with a face of defeat who was probably dreaming of a warm bath and good night’s sleep. In a moment where fans would have understood being told no, King said yes to every single fan that asked. I watched off to the side as he took numerous photos with fans of not only Parra but also Manly. He smiled, shook hands, ruffled the hair of a little boy and took many photos before finally heading home. When I asked King about the blue and gold faithful army, he expressed a deep appreciation. “Our fans are with us through thick and thin and without them we wouldn’t have a game at all.” Weeks on end, NRL fans flood to their respective stadiums to watch their team with great pride. A pride, which in no way goes unnoticed by the players. “We go out there on that field for them every week and want to make them proud to show them how much their support means to us.”
“The greatest feeling is running out in front of a big crowd with the adrenaline running through your body”, words spoken from the man who says rugby league means everything to him. At this moment, King is playing powerful football and continues to cement himself in the hearts of the fans. In the future, when the boots eventually have to be hung for the final time, no matter what team he finishes with, his spot in the hearts will still exist. 22 years ago a 4 year old boy played his first game of football. Today, he is a member of the Parramatta Eels and with every day he wears the emblem on his heart, he is inspiring young players to be the like he is today. “I am truly blessed to be apart of this game” he says, and I say we are blessed to have him.