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Preston back to where it all began

Former Cronulla Sharks fan favourite Preston Campbell achieved almost everything in a distinguished NRL career, including a Dally M Medal, a premiership and over 250 games at the top level.

Yet despite his vast array of rugby league honours, the legendary playmaker's proudest accomplishment is his ongoing work within the indigenous community.

Campbell is an ambassador for 'Deadly Choices', an initiative that educates and empowers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to make healthy lifestyle decisions.

The Sharks announced a partnership with the organisation on Tuesday, and Campbell – a Cronulla player from 1999 to 2002 – returned to the club where he became a household name to promote the alliance.

"Deadly Choices puts across some great messages, some very important messages – ones that the whole of the nation can have a look at," Campbell said.

"We talk about stuff like diabetes, heart conditions. We're talking about illnesses that affect everybody.

"For me, it was easy to get on board, because it was how I lived – I ate healthily, I made sure I got enough sleep, I was active. So, with those habits I created, the work's easy for me.

"But to actually get out and connect with people and share my journey and know that they'll gain a lot from it, it's pretty special."

The 41-year-old Campbell – who enjoyed stints with the Gold Coast Chargers, Penrith Panthers and Gold Coast Titans before his retirement in 2011 – repeatedly expressed how grateful he is to be in a position to help others.

"Rugby league gave me so much. Fourteen years [in the NRL] – I loved it. It taught me so much about the sort of person I really want to be," he said.

"Given so many people that I met impacted me in different ways, I just wanted to do the same thing.

"I realise the power that rugby league has, or anything that has profile. It's important, there's a lot of responsibility there.

"The work that I do now, I couldn't be prouder. I've been supported by so many people that gave me so much. It's just great that I'm able to repay that in some way."

During his visit to Southern Cross Group Stadium, Campbell also happily reflected on his playing days at Cronulla.

"It's a bit nostalgic, mate. I still remember it as 'Shark Park'. This is where it all started for me, I guess. I sort of stormed onto the scene.

"I still hold it close to my heart. I played four years here, arguably some of my best football, and I had a lot of fun."

Campbell gave particular mention to the Sharks supporters, who he says fully embraced him throughout his time at the club.

"The Shire community, when it comes to rugby league, they love their football. That was shown every time we had a home game here. They were just so welcoming.

"There's a lot of fond memories here. Stuff that's really hard to forget."

The diminutive backline utility wore the black, white and blue with distinction 54 times and was crowned the game's best player in 2001 – a year in which he bagged 17 tries.

But in his typically humble fashion, Campbell pointed to a team effort rather than an individual performance as his favourite Sharks moment.

He recounted the story of Cronulla's 22-6 qualifying final victory at Shark Park in 2001 over the defending premiers, Brisbane.

"We played against the Broncos here, the first game of the finals series. The ground was just packed.

"It was on a Sunday, and I used to love playing here on a Sunday. This day in particular, we obviously got up, and we were the underdogs. I just remember how loud the crowd was.

"That's probably the most memorable moment, even though there's a lot."

One of rugby league's true good guys, it's clear to see that Campbell is a widely admired figure. Even seven years after retiring from the NRL, he was flooded with well-wishers from the Sharks on Tuesday.

However, that admiration is something he doesn't take for granted.

"That's what the power of rugby league does. I played with a few other clubs and I kind of have that in a lot of places I go.

"Coming back to Cronulla, they still welcome me. The fact that I played here for four years makes me a Shark forever, and a lot of people feel like that.

"It's great to see that the club's going well. Not just on the paddock, but the fact that they're building community connections like they are is only going to help the brand.

"At the end of the day, it's all about community."

Acknowledgement of Country

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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