The young half has been pushed to the ground many a time by the cruel fate of rugby league, but on Friday night he finally gets to live his dream and make his first-grade debut.
The five-eighth was just 18 years old when it first happened. It was just the fourth game of the 2015 season in the Holden Cup when Tracey first heard the snap every rugby league player fears. Playing for Cronulla at the time, Tracey suffered the first ACL tear of his young career, his season over.
Focused on striving towards his goal of playing in the NRL, Tracey picked his head up and pushed himself forward. It was a setback, not game over.
Then, in the pre-season leading up to the 2016 season, just eight months after the initial injury, his worse fears started to become reality.
He was in the backend of his rehab, and suddenly it was gone again. Another season down the drain, this time before it had even begun. Not even 20 years-old, Tracey decided time was in his favour.
A change of scenery presented itself when Michael Maguire came calling, and all of a sudden this young Shark was a Rabbitoh, eager to put his injury woes behind him and his mind set on making his NRL debut in 2017 after Luke Keary departed the club for the Roosters.
Training with the South Sydney physio and once again nearing the end of his rehab, what happened next would force even the toughest of young players to walk away from their most cherished dream.
But Tracey was tougher than most.
The young gun decided this was it. This was his final crack. Three ACL tears in less than three years, Tracey pondered how many ladders he’d walked under and salt shakers spilt to get luck so incredibly bad. After opting towards a donor transplant for his first two knee reconstructions, Tracey decided a patella graft was the way to go for his third time around.
Third time lucky.
He ran out for the North Sydney Bears, the Rabbitohs’ feeder club at the time, and played the first half of a trial match against the Wentworthville Magpies. It was his first game in three years. And he came through unscathed. Knowing he was one knee buckle away from retirement, Tracey put everything he had into the 2018 season. And he did it.
Not only did the young gun come through the season with his knee intact, but he was also rewarded by being named the Intrust Super Premiership’s Five-Eighth of the Year. But yet, his road to his dream was blocked by a few handy players.
Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds were entrenched in guiding the Rabbitohs’ to their first top-four berth in four years, with youngster Adam Douiehi playing second fiddle when Adam Reynolds was injured. It didn’t help that Cody Walker hadn’t missed a game since Round 10, 2016.
But now selected for the Blues, Walker will miss his first game in three years. Enter Tracey.
While Cody becomes the oldest five-eighth to debut in Origin history, Connor’s story is the one that has those behind the scenes in Redfern buzzing.
After impressing in the trials, Tracey will partner Adam Reynolds in the club’s clash with Parramatta at Bankwest this Friday night, a game that will see dozens of the youngster’s friends and family flock to the new stadium, not to watch the Rabbitohs hunt for their eighth straight win, but to see a courageous 22-year-old live out a childhood dream.
His knee has buckled, his faith has wavered, he owns real estate at rock bottom. But through the dark times, a light has finally come at the end of a long, long tunnel.
Welcome, Connor Tracey. You’re an NRL player now.