Warriors hooker Nathaniel Roache spent the last six months living his version of a professional nightmare, after being struck down by three separate injuries in the lead-up to the 2017 NRL Telstra Premiership campaign.
After playing 11 games in his rookie season last year, Roache had his eyes firmly set on starting 2017 as the club's interchange hooker, only for the triple blow to keep him out until Round 4.
Set to come off the bench this Sunday against the Parramatta Eels and get his first taste of NRL action for the year, 20-year-old Roache reflected on a frustrating period.
"I am just happy to be playing again, playing ISP (Intrust Super Premiership) the last two weeks has been good not only my fitness but my confidence playing footy again," Roache said.
"The first [injury] was just before pre-season, I had ankle surgery and I had to get a screw put in. That put me out for the whole first part of pre-season until Christmas.
"After that I had a throat operation where I had to get half my thyroid removed because there was a bit of burst vessel on it and it swelled up a bit.
"The most recent one was a bulging disk in my back which is still currently there, but I am monitoring it so I can at least get through games on the weekend."
While stuck on the sideline, Roache had to watch on as 19-year old dummy-half Erin Clark impressed through the pre-season trials and assumed the bench utility role for two games.
After competing with fellow Junior Warriors graduate Jazz Tevaga for a spot last year, Roache admitted it had been tough to watch another player getting the initial jump on him for 2017.
"That was definitely something I noticed being on the sideline. Me and Jazz fought a bit last year for that bench role, I have always had competition, I didn’t really mind it," Roache said.
"[But] during pre-season it was difficult to watch other players get that little front foot step, but I just had to worry about what I could control."
The only positive to come out of it was the company Roache had in the rehab ward, where he spent a number of months working alongside star off-season recruit Kieran Foran, who was recovering from shoulder surgery.
"I pretty much was with him the whole burst before Christmas," Roache said.
"Obviously with him going through what we he was going through at the time I tried to not talk about footy at all, I just tried to get to know him as a person."
Meanwhile prop Jacob Lillyman said he had been impressed by Roache's attitude through his injury struggles, backing him to form a potent hooking combination with Issac Luke as the year goes on.
"He's handled it all really well, he's such a great kid and I have got a huge rap on him," Lillyman told NRL.com.
"It’s a testament to his character the way he has come through all that and pushed out the other side.
"He is certainly a good little footballer and he takes it in his stride. I think his combination with 'Bully' (Luke) could be massive for us, Bully would probably like to play 80 but I think it would bring a lot to the side to have Nate come on for a spell.
"He is such a dynamic ball runner, so hopefully down the track we will see that happen."