French on 2017 finals heartache
The morning after the Parramatta Eels' agonising first-round finals loss to the Melbourne Storm last September, Bevan French picked up the phone.
Having not travelled with the team to Melbourne while nursing another hamstring injury, French called the club's medical staff to let them know he would be playing in week two of the Telstra Premiership finals against the North Queensland Cowboys.
"I said 'I'm ready to go'," French recalled of the phone conversation. "I was excited. I was pumped. I couldn't wait."
But that excitement was short-lived. Given it was a recurring injury, the Eels medical staff didn't have the same faith in his body.
He broke down in tears.
"I came into training Monday morning and they had a chat with me and said just because of the recurrence, we don't want to take that risk," French told NRL.com.
"Understandably, I'm only 21. Hopefully, I have 10 years left in me. I was understanding but it was pretty heartbreaking. I was so shattered. It was going to be my first semi-final game. Especially when you work hard at something and you're passing all the tests, to get told you have to take it easy and have one more week, it was pretty tough.
"It's something you dream about as a kid, playing semi-final football and having that atmosphere. We worked so hard as a squad all year. It was heartbreaking, not only to cop the news, but to go out that week."
French's replacement at fullback, Will Smith, was arguably Parramatta's best player in the loss to the Storm in the opening week of the finals at AAMI Park.
That added to the Eels' reluctance to rush French back from an injury that hampered his 2017 campaign.
"We would have loved to have had him in the team," coach Brad Arthur said.
"But he was ruled out by the medical guys. He was too big of a risk in too big of a game and Will Smith had done a great job for us. Obviously, we're a better team with Bevan French in the side, but I had a conversation with him. Deep down he knew, all the indications were that he wasn't quite right.
"He was disappointed, very disappointed. He worked hard to get in that position. He's only young and it's all part of the learning process. He hasn't missed a beat this pre-season. He's absolutely flying. He's worked hard on his fitness. Touch wood, but at this point he's flying."
Given the troubles French was having with his hamstring, the club looked at alternate treatments in a bid to help him overcome what had the potential to become a chronic injury.
"Leading into the second time when I'd done it again, I passed all the tests so I was thinking 'what else could it be?'," French said.
"That's why I went to the chiropractor and had a look at that. It was a no-brainer. If you're doing everything right and passing all the tests and it keeps happening, there has to be more to it. That's why we went and checked it out.
"I guess the main thing there was that my pelvis was tilted which was putting more strain on my right side which is why it kept re-tearing. Once I got it checked out, I thought I could play that game. But since it recurred twice in one year we didn't really want to take the chance with that. I was pretty damn close."
This will be a pivotal year for French, who has made no secret of his desire to earn the No.1 jersey ahead of Clint Gutherson and Jarryd Hayne.
He admits after two years in the NRL, he finally feels like he belongs.
"I only got that feeling a few weeks ago coming back into pre-season," he said.
"I think it's the tough times that gels a team together. I've only had two pre-seasons in the top grade before this one, and it's hard coming in as the young bloke – you don't really want to overdo your hand.
''You just have to make your way in slowly. But now I have a feeling with this group, through everything we have been through, I feel like I belong."