Ask any rugby league player and he’d tell you – the loneliest and toughest rehabilitation task is the year-long recovery from a knee reconstruction. The individual physiotherapy, repetitive training and battle with confidence can be almost unbearable.
And the mental recovery is often as important as the physical. But ask those who have watched iSelect Titans front-rower Matt White apply himself before, and after, his return from his ACL injury suffered in a trial match in 2013 and they’ll tell you he has been inspirational with his single-minded journey back to fitness.
White, the 29-year-old from Inverell, had averaged 22 matches a season in his first four years with the Titans and had no previous major injury before he was denied any action in 2012. Yet he hit the ground running with three 40-minute game-time appearances in the trials in February and will enter the first round in great shape, a just reward for his application.
The person who can give the best insight into why is iSelect Titans head strength and conditioning coach Daniel Ferris. And he says simply:
“To come back from that sort of injury with no limitations is first class, as good as anyone I have seen,” Ferris said. “I can’t speak highly of his attitude, he’s just a real tradesman with an outstanding work ethic.
“Mentally he had no issues; he was phenomenal. He is back in better physical shape than what he was last year when he was just about our best trainer – his strength and speed are up and his skin fold is down, and he was able to punch out such high minutes.
“His trial form over the past two games has been incredible considering the minutes he has played and the intensity he’s played with – usually players will gradually increase from 10 to 20 minutes, but he has been doing 30-40 minutes.”
Again, no one within the Titans should be surprised about that. Turn back the clock just over a year and the club struck a pre-season training award for excellence and it was shared by White and Steve Michaels, who between them had not missed a session, from November to the end of January, on the field, gym, altitude or cross training. Yet the injury robbed him of the rewards.
But this story is not just about White, who began his NRL career with the Newcastle Knights where he made his first grade debut in 2005. It’s about leadership and the inspiration he has provided to three other Titans.
NRL squad members Beau Henry and Cody Nelson and under-20s players Jamal Fogarty also tore their ACLs in 2013. They formed the toughest training group that exists in any club – the “gone for the season boys” who have to come in day after day without the incentive of playing. Yet, with Whitey’s leadership, they moulded a tight-knit band who encouraged each other through their relentless rehab.
“They had to do a lot of training by themselves,” explained Ferris. “Because Whitey was there, we knew they’d be driven and would have certain standards and that was because of Matt White. He’s an absolute pleasure to train and that group has a lot to thank him for just because of his attitude. He could have put his head down and sulked, which he had every right to do, but there was none of it.”
White certainly feels confident and fit as he waits to see if his recovery will be completed with a place in John Cartwright’s 17 for the season opener on Monday, March 10 at Remondis Stadium.
“I’ve had three trial games [two for the Titans and one for Seagulls) and punched a few minutes out and the knee’s been good so far,” he said. “It’s obviously been a hard year, sitting on the sideline and watching the boys run out and play last season. But there is not much I could do about it, those things happen and I’m back playing now. Having the other Titans boys who did their knees around training together, ensured we were there to support each other and get through it.
“You obviously have that first tackle on your mind when you come back from a knee reconstruction but once I got that first touch and feel you’re back into it, I felt fine. The surgeon told me after the operation that there was only a five per cent chance I’d do it again so I was confident and worked really hard on my rehab.
“I feel strong and am certainly ready to go in round one.”
It can be argued that, with a fit White, the Titans’ depth in the front row matches any other NRL’s club with coach Cartwright having Nate Myles, Luke Bailey, Luke Douglas, Ryan James, White, Mark Ioane and last year’s Titans’ Holden Cup player of the year Caleb Bridge to call on.