By Jeremy Walker
From almost losing his life in a surfing accident to scoring crucial Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Final goals, veteran fullback Rhyan Grant has seen it all in Sky Blue across his illustrious career.
“Rhino”, “The Energizer Bunny” or “Buster” has spent over 13 years with Sydney FC –winning four A-League Championships, four Premierships and one FFA Cup.
The four-time PFA Team of the Season member undoubtedly boasts one of the most decorated resumes in Australian domestic football – with two ACL injuries and a near-death surfing experience not fazing the star defender.
I tried to go out in a pretty big swell but mother nature quickly reminded me of who’s in charge.– Rhyan Grant
Back in 2018, Grant was surfing at Collaroy Beach where his leg rope got caught beneath a sewage pipe amongst the choppy ocean conditions.
Submerged under the sea and struggling to fight for oxygen, the fullback accepted his fate and stopped his efforts to get to the surface – but his board leash snapped just in time.
“Obviously I got a bit too big for my boots, I tried to go out in a pretty big swell but mother nature quickly reminded me of who’s in charge, it was pretty sketchy!” said Grant.
“I ended up breaking an arm, bruising some ribs and putting myself in all sorts of strife, at the time it was a bit of a kick up the butt to not take things for granted.
“I was really on a mission to get good back then but now I’m happy to plateau with my skill level at surfing and just enjoy a few waves here and there when the swell is little.”
Despite the gut-wrenching accident, Grant remains the laid-back character that Sky Blues fans adore – with his famous mullet potentially making a return.
“It was something a bit different at the time and me just being myself and not worrying about what people said,” Grant added.
“A lot of people hated it! But now I think every second person has one so it’s sort of become more acceptable … but I do love it and will hopefully get a little one back soon.
“It won’t have the same length as the last one but I think there’s one slowly coming back now just to feel a bit young again I suppose and part of the hip crew.”
The dynamic fullback is the record appearance holder for Sydney FC with 278 matches – owing his hardworking attitude to his Central West country roots.
“I’m from a small country town, Canowindra, and yeah I wouldn’t change anything about it, I had a great childhood,” Grant said.
“At the time the town only had between 1500 to 2000 people so it was a very small town, everyone knew everyone, all the kids got along and it was just a case of ‘be home before the streetlights come on’ – that was sort of the adage we lived by.
“My dad always likes to say ‘a small country town makes you work harder and makes you work for things a little bit more’ – whether that’s true, I’m not sure, but that’s what mum and dad instilled into me.
“If you look at the way I play football it’s not always skilful or the best on the pitch, it’s just about trying my best and never giving up and I think that’s where it’s come from, my country background.”
A sports enthusiast growing up, Grant idolised Harry Kewell throughout his Leeds United and Liverpool days, hanging posters of the ex-Socceroos star in his bedroom.
Also a fan of rugby league, the 31-year-old defender has been a long-time Penrith Panthers supporter and will be watching the NRL Grand Final very closely.
“As a real young kid I loved rugby league and loved the Penny Panthers and Ryan Girdler,” said Grant.
“I’m not this year, but I was a VIP member the last 4 or 5 seasons and I’ve had a guy look after me and send me out some jerseys and tickets, so they’ve looked after me really well.
“Unfortunately I won’t be there on Sunday, I went a couple years ago when we lost but I’ll definitely be watching.”
With a love for all sports, Grant enjoys rallying his teammates to enhance the comradery of the squad – once devising a pre-match cricket game in the sheds before a 2018 Sydney derby – which the Sky Blues went on to win 3-1 at Olympic Park.
“With the weather the kick-off was delayed and the changing room was a good spot to start a little cricket game,” Grant added.
“We had a few tennis balls in the kit, I can’t remember what makeshift bat we came up with but all the boys got around it and killed a bit of time.
“Just yesterday we were hitting around a tennis ball and mucking around, some of the foreigners don’t quite get the rules of cricket but they have good fun anyway.”
Expert in galvanising the playing group, “Rhino” continues his reign as ‘fine master’ of the Sydney FC squad, laying down the law in comical fashion.
“I started being fine master back in 2016 and had to come down on a few players at different times, but I gave it away the last couple seasons and the fines started to drop off so I’ve taken it back up this year,” said Grant.
“The kitty’s looking quite healthy at the moment with the amount of money we’ve got! But the rule is if you don’t bring a cake in on your own birthday it’s a $400 fine, which is our steepest fine.
“No one’s forgot so it keeps everyone on their toes which is what it’s there for, but there’s also a rating system on the cakes.
“There’s four judges that rate on different criteria and if you come last at the end of the season, you have to bring another cake in, so the cake business is big at Sydney FC.”
Although Grant has won all major trophies in Australian domestic football, scoring in two A-League Grand Finals, the defender is still driven and continues to push for a Socceroos spot at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
“I think the standard dropped last year and as a player that’s been here for so long, I feel responsible and need to get us back to the top of the table and competing for silverware like we have for so long,” said Grant.
“People obviously criticise you at different times, which is a little bit of a factor to keep me going forward and wanting to prove people wrong, but the biggest thing is enjoying it for what it is and I’ve got that hunger there.
“With the national team I’ve been on the out of late, but you never know what can happen if I start the season well, so I’ve got that in the back of my mind.
“Firstly, I want to play well for Sydney FC and be successful and if that can push me back into the Socceroos squad for the World Cup, then that would be unreal.”