- Australia fullback Rhyan Grant survived a harrowing experience in 2018
- Career has since blossomed for both club and country
- The Socceroos return to the pitch this week after longest absence for 60 years
“Everything went peaceful and quiet under the water. I got ready to just let it happen. I thought, ‘This is it’.”
That was how Australia and Sydney FC fullback Rhyan Grant described his near-death experience in 2018 to PlayersVoice. Wild surf and a freak leg-rope tangle on a protruding pipe saw Grant trapped underwater with no escape seemingly possible, only for the rope to unexpectedly free itself.
“A country boy at the beach… What could go wrong?” said Grant, with more than a touch of self-deprecating humour.
Since then, he has locked up a spot on the right side of defence for Australia, played at the AFC Asian Cup, scored a championship-winning goal and now has his sights on featuring at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
“I think at the time it did [change the way I approach football],” Grant told FIFA.com about his experience in the surf. “Sometimes you can take things for granted, so that gave me a different perspective, and I treat football extra special and certainly don’t take it for granted.”
Grant has become something of a cult figure at Sydney FC, with his trademark long-at-the-back and short-on-the-sides ‘mullet’, straight-talking interviews and tireless running up and down the sideline – he regularly covers 12 kilometres per match – not to mention charity work.
It is all a long way from growing up in a small country town of barely 2,000 residents far from Australian football’s heartlands, and where the youngster’s walls were covered in Harry Kewell posters and newspaper clippings. “I was in awe of that [2006 Australian World Cup] team,” Grant said. “The boys did us proud and had a red-hot crack in Germany.
“It really inspired a lot of kids back then. We all got up in the middle of the night, and you knew it was big when even my mum and sister got up!”
Long road to the top
With fewer opportunities in the Central West of New South Wales, Grant moved to Sydney at the tender age of 15. Despite the challenges facing local aspirants, the region has also notably produced Matildas and Lyon fullback Ellie Carpenter, and 2015 Asian Cup winner Nathan Burns. Indeed, the latter is a close family friend – so much so that the two sets of parents go on holidays together.
Rhyan’s father Daryl travels to every single Sydney FC home match, making the six-hour round-trip. “I try and tell him he doesn’t have to make it, but he loves to and is always there and is definitely my biggest supporter. I’m sure he will make his way over to Qatar if I’m there.”
Daryl could barely have received a better reward than last season’s Grand Final, when his footballing son forced home an unconventional winner with his chest to secure the title for Sydney FC. The unlikely goal served to add yet another layer to Rhyan’s cult status.
Grant is by no means a goalscorer – he averages one goal per season for Sydney FC – yet seems to be drawn to shining on the big stage. Two of the 30-year-old’s strikes have come in Grand Finals, including that championship-winning goal, plus another in a successful shootout victory.
Grant is yet to open his account for Australia, despite assuming the No4 shirt last worn by the national team’s greatest goalscorer, Tim Cahill. Having developed under the guidance of current Socceroo boss Graham Arnold at Sydney FC, he has been first choice right fullback since making the 2019 AFC Asian Cup squad, where he played all five matches.
World Cup dreaming
Australia arrive in Kuwait this week for four World Cup qualifiers in 12 days starting with a match-up against the home side on Thursday.
The Group B frontrunners will complete their Round 2 commitments with outings against Chinese Taipei, Nepal and Jordan. The matches will end a period of inactivity for Australia stretching around 550 days – their longest spell without taking the field since the early 1960s.
“[Representing your country] is the highest honour you can have as a footballer and as an athlete, there is nothing bigger than that. To be able to do that is huge for me, and I want to be a part of for as long as I can.
“We have a big 18 months coming up. When we qualify – and I’m sure we will qualify – it would be awesome to be selected and play in a World Cup. That is definitely a driving factor me at the moment, and to do everything I can to be in contention for that when we get there.”