Despite suffering a setback in his return from a serious neck injury, South Sydney back-rower Kyle Turner is hopeful of backing up next week against Manly.
Turner hadn't played since suffering a neck injury in the pre-season All Stars fixture and undergoing surgery on a bulging disc; after playing several games for North Sydney in the NSW Cup his NRL comeback in his side's 20-16 win over Penrith in Round 21 was cut short after 20 minutes when Jeremy Latimore's shoulder came into contact with his head when he went in for a tackle and was concussed.
The partisan South Sydney crowd had stood and applauded the youngster's return when he came on in the 26th minute to replace Chris Grevsmuhl, who was coming off with a rib complaint.
Five minutes after half-time the entire crowd stood as one and applauded him as he was helped from the field following a tense and silent few minutes as he was attended by club staff as he lay on the ground, the medicos taking extra precaution given his injury history.
After the game, his coach Michael Maguire said Turner was in good spirits and keen to face Manly in Round 22. Turner himself addressed journalists and was in good spirits as he shrugged off the setback.
"[It was] a bit of a hard knock, but I'm feeling pretty good now," he said.
"It is [a bit scary] but I think everyone's main concern was the neck. But no, all that aside, I thought it was a successful return. Other than that, it was very unlucky.
"It was very disappointing how it turned out. But I'll go through all the protocols this week, make sure my head's fine and hopefully get back out there next week."
He said he wasn't currently concerned about having several head knocks and the club had followed all the necessary precautions.
"I've gone to see doctors in Melbourne, in Sydney. I've done all I need to. But there's no positive results from that. It's all good. I'm just looking forward to playing some good football now."
He said he hadn't at this stage contemplated retiring early and would only consider it if it got to a point where the head knocks were having repercussions on his health or he was having trouble recovering.
He said the reception from the crowd when he ran out was "awesome", especially given the pre-game nerves that had him close to throwing up.
"To see everyone and hear everyone in crowd give me that standing ovation when I ran out, it was a lift for me. I hoped I brought that onto the field for the team," he said.
"I was almost throwing up right before run-on. But no, the boys calmed me down and made me confident to think that I should be in this side. I thought I went out there and did a fair job.
"It was a long road to get where I am now. But looking back at it now, I think it was a good life lesson and I'm just looking forward to playing some consistent football now."
In terms of next week it will just be a case of going through all the protocols with the club medical staff and seeing what happens, he said.
Maguire said when Turner went down his first thoughts had been for his player's welfare, but had been relieved to see Turner in good spirits after the game.
"They're pretty special moments when you've got a young kid who's been through the things he has. But he'll work hard. No doubt he'll want to play [next round against Manly] and we'll assess and do all the right tests to make sure he's okay. But it's good to see him out there playing.
"I think everyone around the club and the community as well understand what Kyle's been through. A lot of people were really excited about him coming back. To see him get up after the moment he had, I was pretty pleased."
Club captain Greg Inglis said the sight of Turner going down again brought a tear to his eye.
"To see a kid of his age and just of his maturity, how hard he's worked away from the field to grow as a person and as a player, I've seen firsthand what he's been through," Inglis said.
"I've seen all the rehab and everything he had to do to get out on that field tonight.
"To see him go down like that, it almost brought a tear to my eye. But in saying that, at this club, we'll make sure that we'll do everything right, assess him right, if he's ready to go next week, there's no doubt he'll be on."
Maguire outlined what the club had gone through to make sure Turner was OK to return.
"We've been pretty diligent around all the tests. We've actually flown him down to Melbourne, he's had all the right tests and seen all the right people. It was just an unfortunate bump. He put his head on the shoulder and got him. I think Kyle will be OK.
"He's got a big smile on his face down there that we got the two points and he's back playing footy. I think that's the pleasing thing that we've got to be talking about as well. Kyle's done all the work now and he's back playing and he's had a number of games in reserve grade. He's performed very well... It can only get better from here."