Late-bloomer Lawrence hits 100
Manly prop Brenton Lawrence can afford to make light of the fact that his Australian Schoolboys teammate Ryan Hoffman brought up 300 games in the same season in which Lawrence finally notched the magical hundred, but for the quiet achiever whose career was nearly ended by a serious back injury, it's a milestone to be proud of.
The affable 32-year-old Queenslander will head back to his home state to link with the Titans next year on a two-year-deal but remains hopeful of finishing his Manly career on a high.
Lawrence would have hoped his 100th NRL game – a dire loss to Canterbury last week that puts Manly's 2017 finals hopes in serious jeopardy – could have been a more positive one for his team.
But speaking from Manly's Narrabeen training base this week, the laconic prop hadn't lost his sense of humour.
"I still want to go out on a good note... in six weeks!" he smiled.
Of course, if Lawrence bows out in six weeks from now it means his team have made the grand final.
"It's kind of a big deal to come back from a disc replacement in your spine."
While there is still plenty of work to do for the maroon and whites, Lawrence said last week's milestone allowed him some introspection on how far he has come given he was bed-ridden and unable to walk due to crippling back pain a little over two years ago.
"It's still something I'm quietly proud of. It's been a long way to get there but I got there," Lawrence said of his 100th game.
"All my junior footy was out on the edges, centre and wing. I actually played Aussie schoolboy footy in the centres alongside Ryan Hoffman and he just played his 300th game. He had a 10 year head-start on me!"
Lawrence debuted as a 26-year-old bench prop in the Titans' wooden spoon season in 2011 before emerging as a consistent performer for the Sea Eagles either side of his back injury. Meanwhile his contemporary Hoffman burst onto the scene as a 20-year-old at the Storm in 2003 before enjoying a decorated career for the Storm, Warriors, NSW Blues and Kangaroos (as well as a stint at Wigan).
"In the end, just to be playing football is a privilege and 100 games is a milestone I guess but it's not something that had been my focus. My focus is just to play good footy and hope that I do that," Lawrence said.
"Hopefully whenever I finish playing footy, I'd like to think I did it well. That goes for my time here at Manly as well, that's coming to a close shortly and hopefully it's something I can look back on and I'll be proud of. I'd like to think people were happy with me while I was here as well."
Lawrence had the disc between his L4 and L5 vertebra replaced in an operation in early 2015 that also saw his L5 – the lowest vertebra in the back – fused to his sacrum (the large bone in the lower back that links the spine to the pelvis and tailbone).
"It (a milestone) is not something you often stop and have a think about but I guess having that 100th milestone game, I had a few conversations with some people and they're nice enough to remind you," Lawrence said.
"It's kind of a big deal to come back from a disc replacement in your spine. There's been a few obstacles along the way but it's been something that you go, yeah, it is pretty cool that you could get back on the paddock after that."
He admitted there were times leading up to the surgery when he thought his NRL career would be ended prematurely by the injury.
"Until the surgery I was like 'I don't know what to do here, I'm going downhill quickly' and then once I had the surgery I was just completely motivated to get back and play football," he said.
"It was a progressive thing that took a few years. Those were the times I had a bit of doubt but after having the surgery I felt so much better and was motivated to get stronger and fitter and get back and from that sense felt confident it was all going to get better."
Lawrence's eighth-placed Sea Eagles travel to Auckland on Friday for Sunday's do-or-die meeting with the struggling Warriors that could well determine their finals fate – win and they are all but guaranteed of September football.