Coote to put NZ demons to rest
A year and a half on from an ACL injury that brought his career to a shattering halt, Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote has revealed that Auckland was the place that he fell out of love with football.
Saturday's game against the Warriors marks Coote's return across the ditch after going down just seven minutes into his first Auckland Nines game with the Cowboys – a move that was meant to signify a fresh start for the now 25-year-old.
Suffering a fourth major injury, Coote said it had been the worst to mentally recover from and it changed his perspective of the game.
"I've got a lot of love for this game but it seemed like I was playing the game just to be injured. That's what seemed like was happening," he told NRL.com.
"Every time I played the game I just got injured so it made it frustrating, and I lost passion and that love for the game.
"I've definitely had to train my brain to change my outlook. Like I always say to myself, 'don't stress over something you can't control', and that's been one of my key sayings over the years.
"Sport psychs were one thing I didn't really do. It was mainly family and having a good bunch of blokes around me to get me through it. I love this game so much and I wanted to be on the park with the boys. It's what got me through."
While consulting friends, family and retired Cowboy Brent Tate to patch up mental scars, Coote credits the club's High Performance Unit for fast-tracking his physical rehabilitation.
"Credit to Andrew Cole and Mark Henry to keep my spirits high and every time I came into training there was something different and it wasn't so repetitive," he said.
"It wasn't as frustrating as it has been in previous injuries down south."
Just as quickly as Coote went down, he had gotten back up; healthy enough to partake in running drills by last year's finals series, but still forced to watch as his side was annihilated early by a rampant Roosters outfit in the semi-finals.
One of league's unluckiest players of recent times got his overdue slice of luck early this year after a quicker-than-expected spell in the Intrust Super Cup before Cowboys coach Paul Green reached out in the lead-up to Round 3.
"[The time in the Super Cup] was not a shot to my pride at all. I was just happy getting back and playing footy, and if I approached it any other way I probably wouldn't be here," he said.
"It was different, the professionalism is way different down there, it was a bit of a relaxing scene and it was sort of good in a way."
Coote's calming presence – including a kicking game that took heat off Johnathan Thurston – and execution of skill, shone a light over what was one of the club's darker days in years - losing 44-22 to rivals Brisbane to start the season 0-3.
"We got towelled up in that game but I was happy with how I went and just excited to be back. Hadn't felt so happy about football in a long time," Coote said.
Having lost the first two games of the season and wanting to fit Coote somewhere into the 17-man team, Green rolled the dice with Coote at the back, squeezing Robert Lui out of the side while shifting Michael Morgan to five-eighth.
Green's willingness to hand Coote the No. 1 jersey stemmed from more than the losses, however, with Coote revealing he never fit as a half in Green's structure during pre-season.
"As much as I hate to say it, I think the fact that we lost a couple of games at the start of the year was good for me getting that No. 1 [jersey]," Coote said.
"I did a lot of work at five-eighth before Christmas and things weren't playing out the way we wanted it to.
"It's a fairly structured game-plan and with 'Greeny' he's really adamant about knowing your role and that game plan, and I couldn't really pick it up as quickly so he said 'after Christmas you'll get a go at fullback'.
"I knew I was going to go back to Queensland Cup, I just had a feeling. But I knew 'Greeny' wanted me in the team and it has gone pretty well since then."
Things have since trended upward for the former Prime Minister's XIII member, who will play his second-most games in a regular season by the end of Round 26, with averages of 147 running metres, five kicks (most of any fullback) and 3.2 tackle breaks per game.
"That's the thing about it; once you're back playing you find that love again and realise why you do play the game," he said.
"It has been a long road and I look at players who made their debuts when I did and they're playing 150 games already, so it is frustrating but I'm glad I've got this far."
The last 18 months has been turbulent to say the least, but things will come full circle for Coote as he officially closes that chapter of his life against the Warriors on Saturday.