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Chippy turned playmaker landing Sharks halves role

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Chippy turned playmaker landing Sharks halves role

After managing just one appearance off the bench in an aborted first season with Melbourne, Daniel Atkinson feared his NRL dream could end as soon as it began.

The Queensland-born playmaker was released by the Storm at the end of 2021 and returned to his home state, where he engaged in a trade.

Atkinson was mixing carpentry with playing for the Sunshine Coast Falcons when he received a call from Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon and the club’s general manager of football, Darren Mooney.

“I haven’t looked back,” he said.

The 23-year-old admits there were “definitely” times when he thought his future as a professional rugby league player had slipped away from him.

“When I went to work at 6:30 and then went to practice, I was like, ‘Wow, it’s getting tough,'” he said.

“But kids do it all their lives.”

Despite playing in all three of Italy’s group matches at the 2022 Rugby League World Cup, Atkinson, who qualifies for the European nation through his mother, had to wait until Sunday’s crushing victory over Canberra to his first NRL start.

He was called up to the Sharks squad at the last minute to fill the unknown five-eighth spot vacated by Braydon Trindall, who was sidelined following his drink-driving charges in midweek.

While Atkinson failed to trouble the goalscorers, the debutant proved to be a more than capable partner for his red-hot halves partner Nicho Hynes.

The pair clicked well as the top-ranked Sharks cruised to a 40-0 victory.

Hynes was brilliant, scoring two tries, assisting three more and breaking five tackles, while Atkinson was organized and error-free.

“He kept it simple. That was the role we had for him,” Coach Fitzgibbon said after the game.

“He got his kicking game going when it counted. He managed to find some runs out of nowhere, almost stuck his nose through the line a couple of times.

“But coming into a team in the space of a week and finding some connection with Nicho, I thought was pretty impressive.”

Atkinson and Hynes overlapped while on the Storm during 2021.

“When I first came to the Sharks, he was the first guy I met, so we have a good connection,” Atkinson said.

With the retired Trindall potentially set for a long spell on the sidelines, Fitzgibbon said Atkinson had done enough to make the role his own.

The rookie running back is eager to make the most of his opportunity, even as he continues to work on his carpentry skills outside of the game.

“I’m trying to start TAFE, just doing a bit of theory here and there when I have some free time,” he said.

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