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During this week, on June 7 1977, one of the most electrifying players to scorch PointsBet Stadium was born – Shark number 329, Thomas Leon Preston Campbell.

Originally from Tingha, a small town on the Northern Tablelands of NSW, Campbell didn't take up playing league until he was 16 years of age. Not long after finishing at Macintyre High School in Inverell, Campbell was picked up by the Gold Coast Chargers. The club based the livewire half in Carrara, unapologetically intent on keeping Campbell and a number of their other younger players away from the bright lights of the Gold Coast.

Campbell made his first-grade debut with the Chargers in 1998. It was his standout performance in their final game of the season against the Sharks that paved way for his move to the Shire. Campbell, playing on the wing, cut the Sharks to shreds, sparking a second-half comeback that nearly caused an upset win for the Chargers.

His man-of-the-match performance caught the eye of Cronulla coach John Lang and the administrators, who were keen to add Campbell to an already impressive roster for the 1999 season.

Such was the abundance of talent at the Sharks in 1999, Campbell only featured in a handful of games. The first-grade side finished the regular season in first place, claiming only its second minor premiership in the top grade.

In 2000, Campbell spent another season in the lower grades, managing only four matches at fullback and two on the wing.

It was in the 2001 season that Campbell announced himself as one of the game's true match winners. A pre-season shoulder injury to Test winger Mat Rogers saw Campbell presented with an opportunity to lay claim to a wing spot.

For the first half of the season, Campbell was easily the Sharks' most potent attacking weapon as he alternated between wing and fullback. After injuries to halves Luke Branighan and Blaine Stanley, Lang opted to switch Campbell to halfback to partner Adam Dykes in the Round 13 clash with the Wests Tigers.

Despite the 16-16 scoreline, it was apparent to Lang that Campbell was the man to lead the team forward. "Jason Ferris was playing good, steady football. It wasn't really Jason, it was the whole team. We just needed something to ignite us, so I gave it a go," Lang said of his appointment of Campbell at halfback.

It turned out a masterstroke from Lang. With the new-look halves pairing of Dykes and Campbell and Ferris playing a utility role off the bench, Cronulla went on to win nine of their 14 remaining matches to finish the regular season in fourth spot. As Campbell, Dykes and David Peachey led the side, the Shire was abuzz with expectation that 2001 may just be the year of the Shark.

Such was Campbell's form through the back end of the season, in the Rugby League Week's much-revered Player Poll – conducted on the opinion of the playing group – he was named the second-best halfback that season behind future Immortal Andrew Johns. Furthermore, 14% of those polled voted Campbell the 'next big thing' behind Braith Anasta (28%) and Trent Barrett (24%).

After easily accounting for the defending premiers the Brisbane Broncos in the first week of the finals, Campbell and the Sharks turned on their best performance when they put the cleaners through the Bulldogs 52-10 in the semi final.

On a sun-drenched SFS on a picturesque Sunday afternoon, Campbell was at his blistering best. The large crowd, featuring a bay of Steve Irwin impersonators, were treated to a smorgasbord of attacking brilliance with Campbell, Dykes, Colin Best and Peachey throwing the ball around at will. On one of those days where the Sharks could do no wrong, normally straight-running forward Martin Lang pulled off his first ever swerve to split the defence and grab a rare four-pointer.

If not for a number of contentious calls a week later against the Newcastle Knights, Campbell and the Sharks may have featured on grand final day 2001. Despite the disappointing exit for the Sharks, 2001 will long be remembered as one of the great seasons in the club's history. The side's march to the second-last weekend of the season has left an impression on anyone who witnessed Campbell that season.

'Apricot', as he was affectionately known, capped off a remarkable season by becoming the first Sharks player since Gavin Miller in 1989 to be named the Dally M Player of the Year.

Campbell returned to PointsBet Stadium two weeks ago as part of the club's Indigenous Round celebrations and to promote the Sharks' ongoing partnership with First Nations preventative health program Deadly Choices. Campbell reflected on his time with the Sharks with great fondness, giving special thanks to former coach Lang for having faith in him all those years ago.

Preston Campbell's special Sharks visit

FACT FILE - Preston Campbell

Born: 7 June 1977 in Inverell NSW

Positions: Hooker, Halves, Wing, Fullback

Playing weight: 73 kg (11st 7lb); Height: 167 cm (5ft 6in)

Nicknames: Apricot, Presto

Years at the club: 1999-2002

Player no: 329

Games for club: 54 in first grade

Debut (for Cronulla): Round 11 Friday 14 May 1999 against St George Illawarra at Kogarah Oval

Last game (for Cronulla): Round 13 Saturday 18 June 2002 against St George Illawarra at Toyota Park

Statistics for Cronulla: 144 points in first grade; 63 points in reserve grade

Representative: NSW Country 2005-07 - played 3 games and scored no points

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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