Last year was the toughest of Shane Shackleton’s career, now the Eels forward is looking to make up for lost time.
Shackleton has done it tough, real tough.
After seven years in the NRL with only 69 games, Shackleton has every right to utter the overused cliché ‘one week at a time’, but he does so reluctantly.
After making his City Origin debut in 2009, he signed with Parramatta for the 2010 season and things looked promising. He left the Sydney Roosters, who had ‘won’ the wooden spoon, and moved across to the Eels, the team that had swept all before them on their road to the Grand Final.
Things were looking so good in fact, his name had even been mentioned in State of Origin circles for the Blues.
Things quickly turned sour, however. Shackleton was injured in his first outing for the Eels in round one against eventual premiers St George Illawarra and was ruled out for the entire season.
Club insiders say it was one of the worst hamstring injuries ever seen.
Shackleton had torn his hamstring off the bone and virtually had to learn to walk again.
Agonisingly, he was back to square one.
“The injury was probably the toughest stage of my career, so far,” Shackleton told NRL.com.
“Coming to a new team and having a top preseason, I was pumped to play some good footy.
“Especially coming to the Eels off the back of the season they had (Grand Finalists), I thought we could be in for a good time.
“To get shot down in the first week with injury was devastating.”
But Shackleton is not dwelling on the past; he is simply using it as motivation for the future.
“I’ve always said injuries are character building,” he said.
“There is nothing I can do about the past, I just have to move on and make the most of my opportunity now.
“Missing a whole year makes you hungrier, makes you want to get more done. You appreciate being out there more and you have to make the most of it.”
The proud father of two young girls still harbors ambitions of playing representative football, but he knows more than most, how fickle rugby league can be.
That is why he is taking ‘baby-steps’ and why each goal ticked off is a major accomplishment. Taking it ‘a week at a time’ is not a cliché for Shackleton. His first goal for 2011 was just to make the 17. The next, to make the run-on side.
Having achieved both of those inside three rounds, the Marrickville RSL junior is now looking to cement his place in the starting XIII; something taken for granted by many NRL stars, but not for Shackleton. Baby-steps.
“I’d love to play rep footy again, but I really am taking it one step at a time,” he said.
“It is important for me to continually reassess my goals as I go. At this stage, making the starting team was my goal, now I want to cement my spot.
“Preseason was a real slog, you gain a lot of confidence getting through that. The transition into the first few games has been okay, but there have been nerves there.
“It will probably take a few games for my body to harden back up, but my leg is 100 per cent and I couldn’t be happier with that. I just need to get the games under my belt to get my confidence back.”
And while Shackleton could be forgiven for trying to ease his way back after coming back from a long injury, he is his own harshest critic.
“I’m happy to be on the field, last week was a bit of a disappointment, but I’ve just got to try to keep positive.
“I wasn’t happy with my game at all, but I’ve just got to look back at where I was last year and stay upbeat.”
The fact Shackleton has fought his way back from the horrific injury is inspirational, but he will continue to look forward, not backwards.
Shackleton will have a chance to rectify his self-assessed poor game, when his side hosts the Cowboys at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night.
A chance to check-off another goal, to prove to himself, first and foremost that he belongs.