Tate says goodbye to an old friend

His teammates at the Broncos only tried it on a few times. They were conscious that Brent Tate had already suffered enough bad luck without somehow jinxing the specially-designed neck brace that not only prolonged his rugby league career but proved a stumbling block in a potential move to rugby union.

He first suffered nerve damage in his neck in Round 24 of the 2003 season – just his second full season in the NRL – and when persistent 'burners' continued throughout 2004 Tate was faced with the very real prospect of hanging up the boots before his 23rd birthday.


But Broncos physiotherapist Rod Godbolt thought he had a solution to prevent further instances of whiplash and for the past 10 seasons it has been as much a part of Brent Tate as that jutting chin and on-field aggression.

"I think a few boys did [try it on] over time but that was Tatey's special thing, you didn't want to put the mock on it or jinx it or anything like that," recalls former Broncos, Maroons and Kangaroos teammate Petero Civoniceva.

"It just became part of the kit bag. Every time he went out to perform that was always part of it along with the boots and everything else that regularly gets packed for Brent and it didn't stop him one bit.

"I think many questions were asked [about his ability to play on] but obviously he in heavy consultation with the medical staff and our chief physio at the time, Rod Godbolt, they came up with this amazing device that was going to prevent Brent from getting into those positions where his neck was going to put under duress.

"Once Brent was confident and got the green light from the medical staff and the coaching staff, that didn't stop him one bit and the Brent Tate that returned was just as good if not better than the previous version.

"And that says a lot about the guy because you can imagine the confidence that would be taken out of your performance when you know that you've got an injury there that is serious enough to put you out for the rest of your career and also too, the serious implications if he was to get a heavy knock. Again, you talk about the toughness and the resilience of the bloke, there is a prime example of that."

Tate's first NRL coach, Wayne Bennett, accompanied he and Godbolt to the neck specialist who would review his new contraption and says that it was a very real possibility that his career could have ended at that meeting.

"I went with him that day at the specialists and it was either career-ending or if you do this you might get away with it," Bennett said.

"But the doctor liked the idea and he went on to have a really successful career and never had any major problems with that again.

"That day at the doctors was pretty sobering and he was young then, he was only about 23 or 24.

"He wasn't someone you had to worry too much about with regards to nights out or not training properly or not caring about somebody because 'Tatey' had all those qualities."

Whether fighting back from a neck injury, shoulder reconstruction, broken jaw or three knee reconstructions, Tate showed astonishing resilience to dedicate himself to the painstaking and mind-numbing act of rehabilitation.

Civoniceva was part of the Kangaroos team that lost the 2010 Four Nations Final to New Zealand but says the pain on Tate's face after rupturing his ACL for a third time hit his teammates hardest.

The images of Tate crying uncontrollably in the dressing room as the game continued on without him tugged at the heartstrings of all rugby league fans as well as those with whom he was representing his country.

"To be honest there's not much you can say. You can try and be as positive as possible but it's hard not to get emotional yourself when you've got a mate that you care for dearly – that we all care for dearly – and when he's faced with this situation the possibility of a career ending... It's very daunting and it's hard not to get emotional," Civoniceva tells NRL.com.

"I'm pretty sure there were plenty of guys that were pretty emotional talking to Brent and seeing him in that way and that state. It's pretty heart-breaking when you watch the video and you see him in absolute despair thinking, How can this happen to me again?

"The amazing thing is that after all that he continued to bounce back and given us the amazing football that he's given us. That's the thing that will live on longest, just that amazing strength of character, that resilience and that toughness.

"When you're injured you're in rehab so basically you're by yourself. It can be something that can really bring you down mentally but again it's that amazing inner strength and that support network that Brent has that continually has got him through those tough periods."

As for the man himself, the simple act of being able to kick the ball around the backyard with his two kids was all the warning the surgeon needed to give him to know that his body had physically given all that it could.

"He pretty much told me that the knee probably wouldn't be able to cope with the rigours of trying to come back and play NRL football so he told me it'd be about getting my knee to the point where I'd be able to kick the ball around in the backyard with the kids which is more important than anything," he said.

"That's why the decision was made and always knew I was one big injury away from finishing, and unfortunately it happened in the Origin match and from that moment on I knew that was going to be my last game pretty much.

"I guess [knowing it's over] is never easy but after speaking with some people, they've said to me that to be able to finish playing Origin is pretty special so it is comforting to know that I did finish at the top.

"It's never easy to retire, I'm sure there's going to be plenty of tough days ahead. Today's tough, last night was tough but at the end of the day I'm thankful for the time that I've been given playing rugby league."