Written by Joe Harvey
When Brooklyn Hardaker took to the field for his Rugby New York Ironworkers debut last weekend, it was more than just a first appearance.
For the past two years, the 23-year-old Australian has been on the sidelines, recovering from back-to-back ACL injuries, his childhood dream of being a professional rugby player tantalizingly close but also so far out of reach.
So, to finally step out onto the field last weekend in New York’s 42-31 loss to Old Glory DC at Segra Field was nothing short of special.
“Last weekend, even now, talking about it gives me tingles,” Hardaker beamed. “It was a pretty cool achievement. As a little kid, it is what you dream of.
“When I went out, I was warming up and trying to enjoy it and take it all in. I kept saying to myself, ‘Just enjoy the moment, take it all in, soak it in’, and I just couldn’t. I was so nervous.
“I was sitting on the bench, shaking, going, ‘oh my god, this is ridiculous, just enjoy it’. As soon as I got out there, I was like, ‘woah’. I looked up, looked at the crowd, and it was pretty cool.
“It was a pretty cool, special moment. I was pretty stoked about it. It was a journey to get there, and honestly, words don’t describe how cool it was because it was a pretty cool moment for me.”
The moment Monate and Brooklyn found out they were in the team against DC.
In line to make their pro debuts tomorrow!pic.twitter.com/OXT6s3jiYw
— Rugby New York (@rugbynewyork) April 15, 2023
Growing up in New South Wales, Hardaker grew up just wanting to play rugby. But, starting out in rugby league, it was as he got older that the backline player gravitated toward the 15-man game.
Playing for Shute Shield club Randwick, where he would play alongside good friend and current Australia international Ben Donaldson, Hardaker would garner plenty of interest and took part in the preseason with Super Rugby side, the New South Wales Waratahs.
Then getting a chance to represent his country in sevens, it was in gold and green that Haraker experienced his first major setback.
With the chance to win an Australia Sevens contract on the line, Hardaker and his countrymen were playing in the Oceania Sevens, the prospect of making the postponed 2020 Olympic Games very much present.
The 23-year-old laughs now that he “didn’t even know what an ACL” was when he landed awkwardly against his Fiji and suffered the injury in his left knee for the first time.
Back to work as a tradesman within three months, Hardaker was offered a professional contract with Los Angeles in Major League Rugby, but his time training with his new teammates was short-lived.
“It was pretty shattering,” he said. “I remember as soon as it happened in LA, sitting outside with my head in my hands, in the gutter, like, ‘Are you kidding me?’. I had done so much hard work to try and get to that point, and it had happened again.
“I was honestly so unlucky. Just wrestling, I somehow managed to snap it again, and then my head was in my hands, crying my eyes out.
“It has been a hell of a ride these past two years, and honestly, I wouldn’t change it. It has definitely helped me with who I am, and enjoying every moment, what’s around you, and embracing it all.
“It has been pretty cool. Especially that moment last week was incredible. It was one hell of a journey and one hell of a ride, and there are not many people who would go through it, and I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through it.
“But, it has definitely been a highlight of my life these past two years because it has taken me around the world; I have met a lot of people, and it has been pretty good.”
While recounting his journey, a single tear trickled from Hardaker’s eye. It is hard not to be moved by a young athlete achieving their dream after so much adversity before their professional career ever really began.
Hardaker credits his family, girlfriend, and friends for sticking by him throughout it all, their support going a long way to his multiple recoveries, as well as keeping him grounded throughout it all.
Working back home in Australia after the conclusion of the 2022 MLR season, Hardaker was going to return to donning Randwick green until New York gave him a call.
Wanting a chance, Hardaker has between now and the end of the season to repay the faith shown in him by the Ironworkers’ powers that be, who were looking to add to their already lethal backline.
Having come off the bench last weekend, the 23-year-old simply wants more between now and the end of the season.
There is no better place to start than this weekend, as the Western Conference’s second-place side, the Houston SaberCats, make their way to the east coast intending to catch up with San Diego Legion.
The Ironworkers have their own confidence, the club second in the Eastern Conference, their own aim to make up ground on local rivals, the New England Free Jacks.
It sets up the game this Sunday in fine fashion; Hardaker focused on getting more opportunities while also shooting for the postseason in the hopes of helping New York to a double.
“I definitely want to be playing footy with the boys, week in and week out,” Hardaker said. “There are some bloody good players on the team, so I am very lucky to be able to play and get the chance to play with them.
“But, you are trying to grab that jersey as a starter or even to keep coming off the bench. I would love to get a starting spot and hold it, but there are some bloody good players, so it is going to be tough.
“And getting to the playoffs, because the boys won it last year. There is some good energy around, and definitely, a goal would be getting to the playoffs, winning the comp without a doubt, because everyone would love to hold the Shield up at the end of the year and go back-to-back.”
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