Prop Brenton Lawrence might not have been on the right side of the scoreboard on Monday night but he walked off Leichhardt Oval a winner.
Lawrence made a very successful return to the NRL in the Sea Eagles loss to the Wests Tigers. As much as the result might have hurt him, it was nothing compared to the pain he experienced last season.
Having joined the Sea Eagles in 2013 after two seasons at the Gold Coast Titans, the former Mackay junior enjoyed a stellar season in 2014, resulting in earning a Prime Minister’s XIII jersey and talk of higher representative honours.
Lawrence’s trademark speed, leg drive, and power, made him one of the game’s best props that season.
However, after just one game for Manly last season, Lawrence underwent back surgery, an operation that could not only affect his playing career, but life after football.
“I had a degenerative disc in my lumber spine. When they (the surgeons) go in, they take it out and replace it with a prosthetic one really. It is a full process to recover from and to go through. It is quite an invasive surgery,’’ Lawrence recalled today.
“It is a long process. You have to understand that from the word go that it is not going to take a couple of weeks like any injury might.
“There were a few (setbacks) where I probably thought I was on target to get back (to playing) a lot quicker. It is not until you start to really improve that you really understand you are ready to go.”
Lawrence’s hard work on the road to recovery saw him returned late last season for a few games for the Sea Eagles in the NSW Cup competition. There were calls from supporters to reinstate him into the NRL side as the team tried to make the finals.
In hindsight, Lawrence was glad he didn’t return to the top grade.
“I don’t think I would have been right mentally or even physically towards the back end,’’ he said.
“I needed to have those games at the end of last year to help me with this year. As much as I wanted to play first grade, I don’t think I would have been ready.”
Having played in the Auckland Nines and round one of the Intrust Super Premiership, Lawrence was promoted to the Sea Eagles side for the clash at Leichhart Oval.
Coming off the bench, Lawrence was one of the Sea Eagles best and has kept his position in the team for Monday night's clash against Cronulla Sutherland Sharks at Brookvale Oval.
“I was happy to get through it feeling well physically. I think even towards the end of my playing (days) before the surgery, I wasn’t feeling good within myself. I knew I was breaking down,’’ Lawrence said.
“To get through (the Tigers game) feeling strong, I was really happy with that.
“It was nice to do my job. I train hard to be someone who can make big efforts and contribute to the game.
“You spend a lot of time thinking about that moment (of playing again). Through the recovery every time I was doing something with the rehab guys or on my own, I was thinking about getting back on the field and that was what I accomplished the other night after the surgery. It meant a lot to be out there.
"I want to be a leader of our pack and make sure we move forward in a positive light. We are a new side and we need to find a bit of composure and structure around each other. I want to contribute to that."