Charlie Gamble: The former Subbies player who might just be the best No.7 in the Shute Shield 

By Matt Findlay; Photo – Easts Rugby/SPA Images

Charlie Gamble had an absolute field day in last year’s Kentwell Cup and if you posed the question of what it was like lining up against him to anyone who had the pleasure of doing so, you’ll get the same answer.

He was in a league of his own, and that was glaringly obvious.

In no way is that disparaging of NSW Suburban Rugby Union’s top tier, it’s merely an indication of why the 23-year-old Kiwi has taken to the Shute Shield like a duck to water through the opening eight rounds of 2019.

After leading Petersham to last year’s premiership and winning the Kentwell Medal in the process, Gamble has filled now-retired Easts flanker Rowan Perry’s shoes with aplomb and cemented his place on the side of the Beasties’ scrum.

He’s gone a long way to justifying his own decision to walk away from a career in athletics too, when he seemingly had the discus world at his feet.

Gamble represented New Zealand at the Youth Olympics and the World Youth Championships but, as so often happens with multi-sport prodigies, there came a time when a choice had to be made.

“It was a tough decision putting the discus down and choosing rugby, hopefully it’s the right one,” Gamble said, ahead of Easts’ round nine clash with Gordon on Saturday.

“Athletics and rugby always clashed when I was younger but it wasn’t until my first year out of school that I really had to decide what I wanted to do.

“There’s aspects of athletics that are great, being an individual sport it’s character-building and you do meet a lot of people and get to go to some great places around the world, but it was the team aspect that made me choose rugby.

“You’re with your mates, you’re doing the hard work together, you get that joy of winning together and even the joys of losing together as well in terms of learning and developing.

“That’s tough to beat.”

It was far from an uncalculated decision either, because Gamble had shown enough to suggest he had a bright future in rugby union too.

He spent four years in the Crusaders Academy, was a star in Canterbury’s under-19 side and did a pre-season with the Super franchise in 2014 too, along with fronting for a number of junior All Blacks camps.

He did narrowly miss selection in the latter side but his ability was never in question through his younger years, and certainly not once he’d begun dominating for Petersham in 2018.

“I wasn’t actually going to play last year at all,” Gamble admitted.

“But I knew someone who played at Petersham and got down to a few trainings so sort of thought I’d take that chance to play a bit more socially and it was really, really enjoyable.

“Subbies is a good standard of rugby but it wasn’t what I was used to and there wasn’t as much pressure, so I could just enjoy it. Winning the competition was great and winning the [Kentwell Medal] was a big bonus.”

Along with having a whale of a time, Gamble’s season at Petersham also stoked the fire in his belly, which led him to Easts.

“Last year was the first year I hadn’t been at the higher level, I took a step back and changed it up, but the hunger’s really back now,” he said.

“This year’s been great so far. Easts have been great to me, it’s a really great club down there, the boys have welcomed me with open arms and I really couldn’t ask for much more.”

He was a much-touted off-season recruit and there was plenty of interest surrounding his step up from the Kentwell Cup, but he’s justified the hype in helping lead Easts to fifth and three wins from their last three starts too.

“I think I’ve found my feet pretty well so far, it took a wee bit of time, the pre-season certainly blew my lungs out,” Gamble laughed.

“It’s a lot faster that’s for sure, even compared to New Zealand but it’s been really good and now I’m at this level again I definitely want to go a lot further, so I’ll just have to keep working hard and hopefully an opportunity will come up.”

Gamble’s immediate focus is the resurgent Gordon though, who Easts take on at Orange’s Wade Park in their annual Beach to Bush Regional Round.

While a number of his Sydney-sider teammates might not be looking forward to the weather they’re set to be greeted with in Central West NSW – it snowed in Orange on Monday – Gamble laughed that off.

“It’ll just be a throwback Christchurch for me,” he laughed.

“It should be good although I don’t know how some of the other boys will handle the cold, hopefully we can make it four wins in a row.”