By the time the 2015 season kicks off on March 5, Wests Tigers utility Tim Moltzen will have gone exactly 677 days without an NRL game.
Not that he's counting.
The NRL's unluckiest player has been burned too many times by trying to time the next game he has to wear a mouthguard or find his game-day locker. And on the eve of yet another comeback attempt, the 26-year-old was generous enough to speak of the uphill battle to full strength.
NRL.com: To say you've had a quiet year is an understatement, Tim. How are you?
Moltzen: I haven't really spoken to anyone about too much at all really because I've been focused on getting everything right. There hasn't been too much to talk about other than rehab. Last year was a pretty shit year for myself and pretty disappointing the way everything ended up. It was pretty tough but hopefully I'm out the other side of it now. I'll see the surgeon this week and hopefully get a clearance to do everything from him and if he says it's all good, then I'm good to go.
Tell us about what happened last pre-season.
Yeah, very frustrating. I come off the ACL [in 2013] so that was pretty disappointing. And then to come back to pre-season and probably do something that no one's really done before and have my kneecap just snap from running, it was pretty disappointing. It was a tough time, from the start of December. I had just started running so it felt like I was back on track and looking forward to 2014. It just wasn't meant to be I guess.
And, initially, no one could figure out what went wrong, could they?
Not really. Their thoughts were that there was a stress riser in there, so I was maybe doing a little bit too much in terms of running and weights. As a result, a combination of all that stuff, the knee just couldn't cope and gave way. Then again, your patella is a pretty thick bone so you wouldn't expect something like that happen.
But it did, and I dealt with that.
I was getting through things, but ended up having staph for a few months. I actually played 80 minutes in reserve grade and was trying to come back. The knee didn't work and they figured out I had staph in my body since April. That was September when we figured that out. I was pretty lucky to catch it, but also annoyed at the fact that we were doing a lot of tests and we couldn't figure it out for a few months there when my body was fighting against a pretty solid infection.
So again, it just seemed to be another setback after the initial setback with the break. We've had to start fresh and take everything out of the knee. I was on a drip for six weeks, had to carry that around with me. We finally had our holidays, but that was my holiday: carrying around a drip. And then come back to training.
It's been pretty full on and pretty taxing mentally. But I think the best thing for me was, once I got through all the drip, getting back into things. I'll hopefully be running at the end of this week. We had to be pretty cautious because of the infection. We can't start anything too early in case it's still in the blood. But all the tests I've been having have shown that it seems to have gone. It's been a pretty shit couple of years.
Wait, so you spent your entire off-season on a drip?
Yeah, so I had a surgery in September and had a drip, or a line inserted into my arm. I spent a week in hospital then got out and carried a drip around for six weeks. Everything revolved around drip-type things. You're in the hospital once a week to get it changed, had a nurse come around every day to change the bottle. It was pretty full on.
Two years out of the game is a very long time. Did you think about giving the game away?
I'd be lying if I said thoughts hadn't crossed my mind. But I'm still relatively young. I look back now and hopefully it's added two years to me. My body was fighting against an infection, and I was thinking my body was giving up on me. Once we figured out I had an infection, it made me look back and think that if I could get through all of that with an infection in my body and play a full game, then without it I'd have to be a lot better. That was my way of processing things. I put last year to bed and knew that I wasn't going to play again, so got onto things, got it fixed.
Were you filthy that you spent a year and no one could pick up the infection?
We did everything we could in terms of trying to pick it up and see what was wrong. We were getting tests weekly. I went for second opinions, third opinions, fourth opinions. The fact was that we weren't getting the tests that we needed to get done. We were checking for the wrong things, even though the signs were there. We ended up changing surgeons and, with that change, we found it straight away and were able to get on the front foot as best we could. I had it since April, so to get it in September, it still took a while but I'm glad we found out what it was. It's been a long couple of years. I wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy, a lot of the stuff I went through. But I'd like to think it's made me a lot stronger person and mentally if I can get through certain things that I've gone through, then hopefully getting back on the field is the easiest part of it.
Was it career-threatening?
I don't know. We didn't really know what it was at the time. When I went and saw the new surgeon, he said, "Yeah mate you've got an infection. We've got to get you in there straight away". So we got in there and they sent them off and they found two types of staph through my body. So obviously over a period of few months it eats away a fair bit. It leaves you pretty vulnerable. My body wasn't in the best shape, but on the flip side, after all the antibiotics, I haven't felt this good for quite some time. It straightened me up a bit. I was really struggling during it, but now I know why I was feeling the way I was. I had an infection as serious as I did. I'm feeling better for having it all sorted out now.
So, running next week. Are you looking at Nines and trials?
Not too sure yet. Nines would be ideal, but I've been caught setting goals before. Especially last year, and then just pushing it a little bit too hard. It didn't come off. Myself, the physio and the surgeons, we've put a plan together and hopefully if everything comes off and I'm ticking all the boxes, I should be right for early next year. I don't know how early, but at some stage next year I'll be back fully fit. If I'm running at the end of this week then it's a positive start for me. Hopefully that gets me going in the right direction. I'll work hard over Chrissy then I'd like to think I'm doing everything with the boys after Christmas.
Have you sat down with Jason Taylor to discuss his plans for you?
We've had a few talks. His main focus for me is to get back to being fully fit. I'm no good to the team if I'm not at 100 per cent and I need to work towards getting back to that. That's been our focus at the moment. It's probably a bit hard to focus on the whole footy side of things.
You're off contract at the end of next year, so it's a really important season for you...
Yeah, this is my last year at the moment so I need to get up and play some good footy. Of course it's motivation, but more motivation is the fact I haven't really played footy the last two years. I've just got to take it one day at a time at the moment. I got caught up last year trying to set goals that weren't too realistic. This time around, I don't want to get disappointed. So we're just working really hard on the little things and getting them right, hopefully everything will fall into place if I'm doing that.