Panthers prop Sam McKendry now the NRL's forgotten man
Penrith Panthers forward Sam McKendry is a Kiwi international with 145 NRL matches under his belt, but he’s the Telstra Premiership’s forgotten man.
But the sound of rupturing a second ACL in 12 months is something the veteran prop has been unable to forget.
While the club's fans have become familiar with household names Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Trent Merrin and James Tamou featuring in the pack over the past two seasons, the longest-serving player on the Penrith roster has been missing through injury.
Signed with the Panthers until the end of next year, it has all gone downhill for the prop since he extended his contract midway through the 2016 season. Two knee reconstructions have put his career on hold.
"It's been tough, it always is," McKendry told NRL.com.
"If you're not playing footy everyone is going to forget about you, but you just have to move on."
The 28-year-old injured the same knee in February during a trial match against Parramatta to extend his stay on the sidelines for a further 12 months, delaying a 10th season in the NRL.
"I knew it went straight away," McKendry said.
"It was partially torn, some players can play on it. The second time around I was not going to get surgery and see if I could play without it, but at the end of the day I just got it done.
"It's always a longer recovery the second time around."
McKendry had a simple approach to tackling a second setback after experiencing the injury eight months earlier, and insists he never thought his career was in jeopardy after speaking to teammate Peter Wallace. The Panthers No.9 had similar back-to-back surgeries in 2014.
"I was never thinking to give up. I've done it before so I knew what I was in for. I built a bridge and got over it," McKendry shrugged.
"I spoke to Wal [Wallace] and a couple of players about it. They gave me some advice and told me I'd get back from it. I've had a couple of kids in that time so mentally it's been good for me too.
"It's taken my mind off the injury and had extra time to spend away from the game."
Once a first-choice selection in the forwards, McKendry now faces a battle to regain a spot in Anthony Griffin's side, with several young guns rising up the ranks.
Back-rowers Corey Harawira-Naera and James Fisher-Harris will continue to push for starting positions, while Bryce Cartwright is fit again and should be a strong contender for a permanent gig in the run-on side in 2018.
The departure of Leilani Latu to the Gold Coast Titans in a boost to McKendry's chances of an immediate return.
"They had a rocky start, but put their head down and finished good," McKendry said of the side's 2017 season.
"It's good to see the young guys come through in that time. It's kept me on my toes and I've got to work harder for my position now. Nothing comes easy these days.
"I'm doing full fitness and will start contact with the team in the last week before Christmas. It's good to be running with the boys. This time last year I was on the machine."
The focus for McKendry's injury return is basic - stay on the paddock.
"Get through it and not get injured. It's pretty simple," he said.
"It's probably good in a way the media isn't on you coming back and the pressure is off. I just want to get a full off-season in and I'm confident I'll be good to go. I'm ready to come back guns blazing."