25 rounds, 192 games, #Origin on a Sunday, and a September Grand Final.
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Rugby League is a gladiator's sport. Only the fittest, most dedicated and toughest can survive, or reach the heights of playing or even captaining their country. It is a true man's game. But no matter how strong, fit or fast you are, sometime during your career playing the greatest game of all, you will suffer from an injury of some sort. Whether it be a corked thigh, concussion, broken bones, busted balls (in the sad case of Brett Kimmorley) and, the most horrific of them all: knee ligaments snapping, requiring a reconstruction. There is an argument that the busted balls are worse, but they're so rare that they don't really count. Kimmorley is probably the first player in history to suffer such an injury.
Think about the effects of the knee reconstruction. Physical, and mental. Your season is gone, and you were pushing to represent your country for the first time ever. In a few unfortunate seconds, all those aspirations are gone for a year. There's the gruelling pain and worry of going under the knife, but even then, it's not complete. There's no guarantee you'll recover. After the surgery, there's months of rehabilitation, including things such as physiotherapy. Your speed is reduced, and your kicking game, if you possess one, has also degenerated.
Over the course of many years, there are countless unfortunate souls who have suffered this horrific injury. On the famously dubbed "Sandcorp Stadium" this year in State of Origin, three players have had to get a knee reconstruction which has been blamed on the sandy playing surface. Justin Hodges and Paul Bowman both suffered them in the first Origin, effectively making sure Queensland wouldn't win. NSW's Craig Fitzgibbon also picked up a similar injury. With Hodges, he won't be back until next season but Bowman managed an early return. In various club games afterwards, more players got the injury.
You thought undergoing one knee reconstruction was tough. Many players have had two, three, even four knee reconstructions. On both knees. The most famous in recent times would be Nik Kosef. A wonderfully talented ball-playing Lock, Kosef represented his state and country. Due to recurring knee problems as a result of four reconstructions, Kosef called it a day last year and hung up the boots at age 29, with plenty of quality football left in him. It's just one career of many that has been destroyed.
Cronulla junior, Sam Isemonger, was touted as the next big thing after representing Australia U/17 in 1997, and in his first top grade games, beginning in 1998, quickly gained a reputation for being a hard hitter. Two reconstructions later, he is on the fringe of Sharks first grade, playing many a game from the bench this season, while in the mean time he's seen the lucky talented kids surpass him into the top grade. Phil Bailey, Paul Gallen, and now Reece Williams, Daniel Dumas and Dale Newton have come. Matt Bickerstaff also cemented a top grade spot late last season. Isemonger will play further first grade for Cronulla, and we hope to see the Como-Jannali boy play well into the future, but we will never know if Isemonger would have played representative football, or made himself into a big name. In saying that however, there's still plenty of time left for him.
Our third example is Ben Ikin. The injury plagued 5/8th or centre who debuted for Queensland at 19 and played for Australia, has announced he is retiring at season's end, aged 26, due to the knee reconstruction preventing him from playing in a way that would do himself justice. Ikin was bagged unfairly during this year's Origin series, but we will remember him as the speedy 5/8th who always looked the goods.
Late in the season, looking at the Round 24 Big League, there are 20 players listed as being out for the season with knee injuries. Paul Franze, Ben Walker, Rodney Howe, Jake Webster, Dallas Johnson, Nathan Fien, John Buttigieg, George Gatis, Andrew Meads, Chris Armit, Michael Vella, Aaron Gorrell, Scott Geddes, Damon Alley-Tovio, Owen Craigie, Peter Cusack, Craig Fitzgibbon, Justin Hodges, Michael Buettner, Luke O'Donnell.
Seven of those players have played rep football. There are also some noted names there, and it is also a recurring injury for Luke O'Donnell. Just days, ex-Queensland prop John Buttigieg announced his retirement. The reason? His knee injury.
Quite simply, no matter how tough you are, or how hard you train, the fact will remain, knees weren't made for rugby league.
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