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Marooned State: Unbreakable

Jharal Yow Yeh's return to the Broncos was a triumph of courage and determination. Copyright: Charles Knight/NRL Photos Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
When the pile of bodies gradually lifted one by one from the cold yet firm mid-winter Dubbo turf back in 2000, we quickly realised something was horribly wrong.

Wilson hadn't gotten up, and Wilson – a hard yet softly-spoken Kiwi No.8 – never didn't get up.

It was a ruck and maul drill like we had done every Thursday night yet in a spit second it changed the lives of everyone involved with the Dubbo Rhinos rugby club.

The next 48 hours were pensive and the eventual news wasn't good: Wilson had broken his neck and was diagnosed as an incomplete quadriplegic, his life from that day to be spent in a wheelchair. The Rhinos – as most sporting clubs do in times of crisis – came into their own and with the support of the wider community built a new house for Wilson and his family with the necessary wheelchair access.

Wilson spent the best part of two years in a Sydney hospital receiving treatment and his return home in 2002 lifted the spirits of everyone who knew him.

But none of us could have anticipated what he would do next.

After us second-graders had left the field one Saturday, players from both sides formed a guard of honour as Wilson was wheeled to the sideline. Assisted out of his chair and with the use of a walker, Wilson then walked to the centre of Apex Oval where the first grade teams were waiting, legs once deemed useless now carrying him forward, one step at a time.

I was in tears as soon as he stood from his chair and when he reached the middle, put the walker to one side for just a moment and performed a ceremonial kick-off, an entire footy club was unafraid to show the extent of our emotions.

It is the most inspirational moment I have ever witnessed on a football field and continues to stir deep emotions in me almost 14 years later. I hope the many who witnessed Jharal Yow Yeh's return to top level rugby league on Saturday, February 8 at Redcliffe will look back on it in years to come in a similar fashion.

The days since Yow Yeh's last game for the Broncos had been quoted almost ad nauseam as he went through each torturous phase of the rehabilitation of his shattered ankle. But when you spend seven weeks lying in a hospital bed and have been told that the extent of your leg injury is unlike anything rugby league had ever seen before, days don't really matter.

"For him to get back to where he is now, it's a massive reward," Griffin said after naming him in the club's first trial of 2014. "For me it's more of a reward and a celebration for all of us to see him back out there in a Broncos jersey. What happens after that, we'll worry about later.

"The thing with his injury is that there's nothing normal about it. There are times when you think he's going up and there are times when he's going backwards – he'd tell you that himself – and it's been that way for two years. That's why it's been such an amazing thing to watch."

When Yow Yeh's name was announced over the Dolphin Oval loudpseaker last Saturday night he received a cheer that was unmatched by any other throughout the night as inside the dressing sheds he tried to recall which boot went on first, the left or right.

When he finally got out on the field wearing a Broncos jersey again his first mission appeared to be to put on a big shot in defence as soon as possible and his first touch of the footy was an encouraging scoot out of dummy-half.

Although he played 50 minutes against the Cowboys, the harsh reality is that Jharal Yow Yeh will never be the player he once was but judging by his long-awaited return, his dream of playing in the NRL again may not be out of the question.

But even if he doesn't get all the way back, the utter refusal to give in until he had worn his beloved Broncos jersey at least one more time will forever inspire all involved with the Broncos organisation.

Just as Wilson continues to inspire me.
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