Injury forces another out

Melbourne Storm fullback Robbie Ross has announced his retirement from rugby league due to ongoing injury.

After visiting a back specialist in Sydney late last week, Ross was told he would not be able to play football again due to a prolapsed disc in his lower vertebra.

The injury is a reoccurrence of a back problem that forced the former New South Wales and Australian fullback to undergo surgery last year, restricting the 29-year-old to just five matches in 2003.

Aside from pursuing business interests outside football, Ross will stay involved in the club for the remainder of the 2004 season in a mentoring role to Melbourne’s younger brigade.

Following rigorous testing with a leading back specialist last week, Ross was told he required an operation to fuse two vertebras, an operation that would bring an end to his playing career.

“In a way the decision was made for me, so when I knew that there was actually no possibility of me playing football again it made it more final,” Ross explained.

“I knew the injury was very similar to the problem I had last year and that at best I would be facing a stint on the sidelines for eight to ten weeks and at worst a year.

“I also knew that if I couldn’t play football this year there was no following year to come back.

“It was always going to be a long term injury and one that I couldn’t afford to have at this stage of my career.”

Ross says he has mixed emotions in announcing his retirement, following a torrid run of injuries over the past four years.

“When you’re injured the uncertainty of whether or not you are going to re-injure yourself places so much stress on your mind your focus goes away from playing football and moves towards the injury,” Ross added.

“When that happens it’s really hard to concentrate on your football so to have such finality coming from the doctor is actually a relief.

“Now I know I don’t have to stress about trying to make a comeback week after week and players coming up to me asking when I’ll be returning. Now I can be direct and honest and say ‘I can’t play football anymore, I’ll be retiring’, which is a real weight off my shoulders.

“The last three years have been so frustrating that I am relieved it’s over but at the same time it’s very disappointing that I can’t play football again.

“Watching the rest of the team run around makes me want to get out there with them but knowing that my body won’t let me, makes it that little bit easier to handle.”

Storm coach Craig Bellamy has asked Ross to stay on with the club this year in a mentoring role, lending a helping hand to fullbacks Billy Slater and Steve Turner.

“Now that I’ve made the decision I have a bit more direction in my life, I’ve spoken with the coach and I want to stay involved in the club,” Ross said.

“I was the first person to sign here, I have a real affinity with the club and I still want to be part of it and help the club grow.

“The role that I’ll be doing this year is working with the younger players and with (backs coach) Peter Sharp because over the past ten years I think there’s a bit of knowledge and experience I’ve picked up along the way.”

Despite enduring a frustrating end to his career, Ross says he’d like to be remembered for his achievements before being struck down by injury.

“I had a great run up until halfway through the 2000 season and that’s where my football memories will lie,” Ross said.

“I’ve managed to play for New South Wales, Australia and in a winning grand final and they’re things that very few people get to do, they are things that I’m happy with.”

After starting his career as a local Newcastle product with the Knights in 1994, Ross found himself with the Brisbane Broncos in 1996 before heading to the Hunter Mariners in 1997.

Ross is an inaugural Melbourne Storm player joining the club in the summer of 1997 before playing a key role in the club’s charge to the finals in 1998. He enjoyed the best season of his career in 1999 setting a club record of 19 tries and earning a call-up to the Australian Test side at season’s end.

Since helping the Storm to a premiership in 1999 Ross has been plagued by injury.

A torn anterior cruciate ligament led to Ross playing just 13 games in 2000, chronic hamstring problems hampered his 2001 season (14 games) and ongoing groin and hamstring injuries enabled Ross to play just 11 games in 2002.

Ross’ 2003 season came to an abrupt end following back surgery and despite successfully negotiating the 2004 pre-season, the back injury surfaced again three weeks ago, following a trial match against the Canberra Raiders.

Ross finished his career with 138 career matches and 89 Storm matches to his name.