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Now fully fit after a couple of years of injuries, Dean Young has been the perfect stop-gap in Wayne Bennett’s pack. But expect a switch to hooker when Jeremy Smith returns in coming weeks....<br><br><br>We’ve given it a year, just to ensure we’re not jinxing him. Gave him 26 rounds and one finals match last season to get back into the grind of what he does best.<br><br>The fact is Dean Young’s knee will never be the same again – but it’s holding up well enough to see him reclaim his best football.<br><br>There were times when Young didn’t think he’d be able to play again. <br><br>It started with a shocking left knee injury that robbed him of a place in the 2006 finals series. The Dragons finished just one game from the grand final and having a player of Young’s ability and toughness out was a massive blow.<br><br>At first medicos thought it was a broken leg, but the revised diagnosis – a grade three tear to his medial ligament and strain to his cruciate – was bad enough.<br><br>After a horrendous off-season spent trying to regain his fitness, Young finally returned to the field in Round 8 of 2007 after eight and a half months or 251 days of recovery.<br><br>He lasted just three games and he was gone for the season again.<br><br>“It was a tough 18 months where at a lot of stages throughout I didn’t think I’d be able to play again. To be back playing again every week and starting to feel confident has been great,” Young tells Big League.<br><br>“Last year was just about getting footy under my belt and I played 23 games and with the way my knee was and what I’ve been through, I was really happy with that.”<br><br>Young doesn’t rate last season as his best in the NRL; far from it. But it was the winter he had to have. He couldn’t be too concerned about performances, he simply had to rebuild his confidence from the ground up. <br><br>“That’s what comes with serious injuries and last year for the majority of the year I was only training the last session before the game, which a lot of people didn’t know,” Young reveals.<br><br>“I think with what I’ve been through and all the complications I had with my knee, it was just really pleasing to know my knee was up to playing NRL again.<br><br>“But this year I’ve been training the majority of the sessions. There’s a fair bit of rehab work and strength work which is extra on top of the training, which a lot of players don’t have to do. There’s specific stuff I have to do to get my knee up to speed.”<br><br>Although Young has sat in the stands while his team-mates have trained in years gone by, he hasn’t let his crutches drag his attitude down.<br><br>Fellow forward Ben Creagh says the Dapto Canary showed his immense leadership skills during his time of greatest hardship. Young had contracted the dehabilitating golden staph infection, but still managed to maintain a belief he would one day return to the field.<br><br>“Oh mate, yeah, I remember how crook he was after one of his surgeries when he got golden staph,” Creagh said.<br><br>“He lost about 10 kilograms in a week but he’s trained unbelievably hard to get his knee back to where it is now. His knee is never going to be 100 per cent but he does so much work just to get his strength back in his leg. He did so much work to make sure he could get on the field to play for us and that’s inspiring.<br><br>“He’s the type of bloke that doesn’t show how he’s feeling to the guys very much. He didn’t come to training and whinge or sook or anything like that. He was coming to training always upbeat, always looking forward to whatever he had to do that day and it was just another day of getting his leg right.<br><br>“It’s great to have guys like that, who even though he was injured, he was such an important person in the team and in the club. He always wants to help the younger blokes at training and now he’s back, in the games as well.”<br><br>With lock forward Jeremy Smith presently out injured, Young has slotted back into his natural back-row position. However, for the majority of the season he’s played a role for Wayne Bennett at hooker.<br><br>In a full-strength Dragons line-up, he’ll likely return to the number nine jersey in coming weeks. Once upon a time this would have annoyed Young, but now he’s comfortable jumping in at dummy-half whenever he’s required.<br><br>“If you asked me that in previous years I would have maybe said yes but really meant no. I’ve never really felt comfortable playing hooker, I’ve always viewed myself as a lock,” Young admits.<br><br>“In previous years I used to start the game at hooker for the first 20 minutes and then I couldn’t wait for the 20-minute mark. Then I’d go back to the back row and do my thing and I’d enjoy that. <br><br>“But this year when I’ve been at hooker I’ve played there for 60 or 70 minutes and I’m feeling comfortable. It obviously helps when the team’s winning. <br><br>“I never used to do any training in the pre-season at hooker, I used to just train in the back row and then once the games come around I’d start the game there. <br><br>“But this pre-season Wayne (Bennett) worked pretty hard with me and I spent all my time at hooker. I’m confident now and I’ve enjoyed playing there this year.<br><br>“That’s where I probably see my footy is with the way the game’s gone. At stages throughout the year Wayne has put me back to lock to encourage me to play a bit of footy.”<br><br>Young is third amongst the NRL’s hookers for average runs and has been getting through a mountain of work in defence.<br><br>Although Ben Hornby is the club captain, Creagh realises the important leadership role Young also plays within the team. The son of a famous Dragons captain, Dean is carrying on from where his old man Craig left off.<br><br>“He’s a great leader at the club, he’s one of the hardest workers and he always gives 100 per cent. He doesn’t stop in defence, doesn’t stop in attack and he’s meticulous at training working on everything from passing to tackling,” Creagh says.<br><br>“He doesn’t get the raps but he’s playing great for us. He does everything that’s required of him… and more.”<br><br>Through hard work, commitment and a tremendous attitude, Young is now back to his best and ready to make up for lost time.