‘I missed the rest of the year… it wasn’t fair’
Having a serious injury is never fun. Unfortunately, now I’m used to it.
Two years ago, I tore my ACL, and, this year did my Achilles. It hurts – not the injury but the time you miss out on the field.
But it’s not that hard to stay motivated to get back on the field when you have your dream job of playing in the NRL.
The NRL dream
It was always a massive dream of mine to make it in the NRL and I shared that dream with my two brothers – we lived and breathed rugby league.
I remember as a kid, that goal was a deep, driving force. I knew one day that I wanted to play first grade. I came through the Sharks system, the junior rep pathways – but I never made junior Origin teams or junior Kangaroos.
I don’t think I was ever the biggest, the fastest, or the strongest, I just tried to work hard, be really disciplined and keep my head down at training and I was lucky enough to get there. My first year in the senior squad was 2015, the year before the club won the comp for the first time. In my first pre-season I was really nervous being around a lot of the older experienced guys in the squad but I learned a lot from them.
There weren’t many young blokes my age. Paul Gallen took me under his wing and had a really positive influence on my transition to first grade when I made my debut a couple of years later.
Being a hooker, I had Michael Ennis there who was close to retiring and he passed on a lot about the craft as one of the great hookers of the past decade, so I was really lucky there.
Gal and I roomed together on away trips, and I’ve got a lot of respect for him for doing all he did to help make my transition as smooth as possible.
Making my debut, twice
Ennis retired after the 2016 grand final so I finally got to play first grade and my first game couldn’t have been bigger – the World Club Challenge in England.
I felt like that was even more nerve-wracking than if I made my debut in a regular NRL game because the English crowd was so hostile, and we went so far for such a big occasion. We took it seriously.
We wanted to win it because as a club we’d never been in that position before, but Wigan beat us on the day, 22-6. I just didn’t want to let anyone down, just wanted to hold my own. A couple of weeks later I made my NRL debut in round one against the Broncos, so it was a bit of a whirlwind introduction to first grade.
I really enjoyed it and learned a lot. That first year I remember a game against the Storm as the first time I had one of those ‘pinch me is this real?’ moments. I was playing against Cameron Smith, who was someone I looked up to from when I was a kid. We beat them and it was my 21st birthday as well.
I remember shaking his hand after the game and chatting to him. It all felt surreal.
I had three seasons at the Sharks but then I had a weird situation – my brother Blayke is a hooker as well and I knew he was ready to play first grade on a regular basis. Not many people are in a situation where they’re competing with their brother for the same job. It was inevitable that it was going to happen; at one stage and it came down to him or me. We are both very supportive of each other, being best mates, so it was hard to leave at the time but looking back, I think it was the best thing for me to move to Newcastle.
Now I’m at another great club and I’m the co-captain here and I feel like I really fit in well here with my style of footy. Newcastle’s lifestyle is very similar to living in the Sutherland Shire and that made the transition easy as well.
The first major injury
It was my second game for Newcastle at the start of 2020 when I did my ACL. It just so happened to be the last round before the competition shut down for a couple of months at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sometimes you do all the right things but the unexpected pops up when you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. You learn pretty quickly how important it is to put your health first – because you never know what could happen.
I missed the rest of the year and that was pretty tough, mentally and physically. I’d never been in that position before, so I had to learn how to cope with it all. It wasn’t fair. The rehab was a lengthy process. The whole competition was called off a few days later. I remember thinking ‘why couldn’t it have been called off a week earlier and I wouldn’t be in this position?’
You can’t control those things. It will do your head in if you always think like that.
I was hoping at one stage they’d call the whole year off so I wouldn’t miss any footy but I’m glad they got back up and running in the end after only a couple of months. The reality of the sport is you just don’t know what’s around the corner. It was a tough year with the isolation and the rehab, a very weird time.
I had a lot of time up my sleeve because I was never going to come back that year, so I made the most of it, building up all the muscles around the knee.
All we could do was go to training and do rehab – apart from the odd takeaway coffee. I didn’t see my mum and dad or my brothers for six months, but everyone was going through that as well, so I couldn’t really whinge about it because the whole country, the rest of the world was going through it. It was great to get back on the field and play a full season last year. We made the finals but got knocked out first round. This time around I’m confident we can do even better.
Deja vu on the injury front
Unfortunately, I won’t be back on the field again for a while after I did my Achilles in the pre-season but I’ll definitely be back on the field before the end of the season. I’m hoping for some time in July.
It’s another one of those examples of things that can happen in life.
Despite putting your health first, through no fault of your own, you get sent a curveball. You’ve just got to keep going.
I’d heard in the past that when people do their Achilles, they look around thinking someone has kicked them and that’s exactly what happened with me. It was a pretty tough pill to swallow. We were doing a conditioning game at training. I went to take off to chase the footy and there was no one within 20 metres, but I dropped straight to the ground like a sniper had hit me. I heard it go and looked behind me thinking what was going on and then I realised what it was and I was like, ‘oh no, you’re kidding.’
People who were back in the sheds 30 or 40 metres away reckon they heard it go. I know the test where you can feel it, so I pretty much knew before the physio confirmed it. There was is a range of different emotions when you go through something like that, but it’s all positive now and I can’t wait to get back out there. I’ve got plenty of goals in place. The season’s not done, I’m trying to come back right on the six-month mark so I can get in a few games before the end of the season.
The importance of healthy habits
Seeing the boys play is tough sometimes but I’ve just got to push those emotions to the side and think positively because the more positive I was last time around, the better my rehab went so I’m trying to stick to that mindset.
My biggest battle is the mental stuff with injury. I find getting back from the physical stuff pretty straightforward, like being diligent with nailing everything in the gym and doing all my recovery work.
Putting my mental health first when I’m recovering is key. You can drive yourself mad if you’re not keeping yourself occupied. Even when I retire, these healthy habits that I’ve developed as a footy player are the kind of things I want to be doing for the rest of my life.
Putting your health first is so important. I could go back in time seven or eight years ago, before I started my NRL career, I’d be telling myself to not take any of this for granted.
Your health is a blessing and be grateful for how good you’ve got it. Here I am getting down about having a torn Achilles but there are some people out there going through things a lot more serious.
Healthy habits like being disciplined about when you eat, having a routine, when you sleep, the amount of activity you do, stretching – all those preventative measures go a long way. You never know when things can turn upside down on you – like a torn ACL or Achilles – but hopefully I’ve got them out of the way now and don’t have to worry about any other long-term injuries for the rest of my career.
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