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Meet the NRL's toughest footballer

The next time you put off going to the gym because it's too cold, consider Matt Eisenhuth and what he had to go through before he made his NRL debut for the Wests Tigers on Saturday night. 

The 24-year-old realised a childhood dream when he ran out against the Sharks at Southern Cross Group Stadium, and while the result didn't go his way the defeat was put in perspective when you consider where he was three years ago. 

Playing lower grades for Penrith at the time, doctors discovered he had a bone tumour in his left leg. 

It was the sort of news that no young rugby league player expects to hear. 

"I was at Penrith at the time and I had shoulder surgery in the off-season on both my shoulders. I was doing my rehab running – just the process of getting back to running – and I had a pain behind my knee," Eisenhuth explained. 

"I'd say to the physio every now and then that it wouldn't hurt all the time but every now and then it would. It was like an achy sort of sensation and it got to the point where they were saying that it was because my body wasn't used to running and it was just the body getting used to it. 

"They'd treat it and it'd feel all right, but it came to playing a game for the Ron Massey Cup – my first game before they put me back in NSW Cup at the time – I was warming up and I knew something was wrong. 

"I played the game, had a shocker and I came off and called the physio straight away and said that there was still something going wrong. 

"Sure enough, on the Monday they sent me for an x-ray and as soon as they stopped the x-ray – like halfway through – the people that were doing it came and said 'how long have you had the pain for?' and I knew straight away that something was going on. 

"I didn't find out until the next day when I saw the club doctor and he told me what I had. I was shocked and I didn't know how to react."

Thankfully for Eisenhuth the tumour turned out to be benign, with doctors telling him he could one day return to the game he loves. 

"At the time they said there was a high chance that it was not going to be malignant, but you're still scared," he said.  

"It started inside my bone and ate away at the bone, so it was more like there was a hole in my leg rather than anything else. They had to cut into my leg and scoop all around it and then fill it with bone cement. I've got bone cement in my leg and that's holding it all together. They told me it's strong as it was before so there's no reason why you shouldn't play. 

"A lot of people have had a lot worse than what I got, but at the time it rocked me. I'm just grateful that it wasn't malignant and that I was able to get back playing footy."

That's exactly what he did, turning in a standout performance for his side with 193 metres and a try assist off the bench in the 24-22 loss to the Sharks. 

It's the sort of effort that should see him cement a spot in the Tigers' 17 for the rest of the season; an incredible scenario given where he was three years ago. 

"It was always going to be special no matter what, but knowing where I've been and what I've gone through with the few setbacks I've had – not even footy-related – to come from that and get to where I am, I'm very proud to have done that," he said. 

"I didn't really know what to expect but it was everything I dreamed of. 

"I was stoked with how it went. I thought I went pretty well. 

"As hard as it was, debuting is probably the easiest part of becoming a rugby league first-grader. The hardest part is remaining there and becoming a regular first-grader so that's what I'll be out trying to do."


Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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