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Panthers second rower Bryce Cartwright offloads against Cronulla at Bathurst in Round 20.

Boom Panthers second-rower Bryce Cartwright was already nursing the mother of all ankle injuries when he walked into coach Ivan Cleary's office for a post-season review. 

But then he came out wearing the ultimate back-handed compliment, too. 

"Ivan was pretty surprised with the way I came in [to first grade], because I didn't have a whole season behind me with my wrist injury last pre-season. He was honest with me and he said he probably didn't think I'd come along as far as I would. He was surprised," Cartwright told 

"I was just happy that they were happy with how I was going and the effort I put in, that I surprised him. It was a bit upsetting that I missed last pre-season, but hopefully I can come back here and put a bit more work in now than I did last pre-season."

Cartwright made his first-grade debut 12 games into the 2014 season and held his spot until suffering a season-ending injury against the Bulldogs seven games later. 

The 20-year-old rookie impressed Cleary enough in his first few outings to be entrusted with playing in the halves for a couple of games in the absence of injured halfback Peter Wallace. 

But he would soon join his skipper on the sidelines, and for the renowned offloader the timing couldn't have been worse. 

"I was just getting used to the speed of the game and feeling more at home in the team. It was pretty shit timing," said Cartwright, who re-signed with the club for an extra four years in September.   

"It was pretty tough hearing how long I was going to be out, especially the way the team was going. It would've been good to play – some of those big games would've been good experience. But I was happy the way the boys went and how far they got."

The nephew of club legend and former Titans coach John Cartwright has already been all but ruled out of the Auckland Nines weekend and the All Stars fixture as he works his way back to full strength. 

Since undergoing surgery late in the season, the towering back-rower has shown immense dedication to recovery, forfeiting any resemblance of an off-season as he came in for rehab every week since the grand final. 

"I broke my fibula, did my syndesmosis, and tore my deltoid in my ankle. I pretty much did everything you can do to it. I just had all that repaired, the surgeon was great. I got a big plate up my leg, a big scar there as well," he said. 

"I didn't have a break – I was in here every week. But I'm coming along good now. I've started running a bit on the machine, so I should be back on the field in about two weeks.

"As soon as I got injured and stopped feeling sorry for myself, I had a few goals: to get my ankle right first and foremost, get my way back into the team, and then hopefully cement a starting spot and play the rest of the year with the boys."


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