Christian Welch cut an inconsolable figure in the sheds at WIN Stadium last year.
The Melbourne Storm prop was starting to cement his place in the side when he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament playing against St George Illawarra Dragons in round nine of the Telstra Premiership last year.
He thought his career was over.
“I broke down a bit in the sheds,” he said.
“I had my brother come down from Sydney in Wollongong to watch the game, and I was crying and thought it was the end of the world.”
Welch went to see a surgeon at Epworth Hospital. From his hospital bed, he saw people who were far worse off than him. It put his situation into sharp focus.
“I was walking past people in wheelchairs and cancer patients, and the reality just hit me there. It’s not that bad, just a bung knee, and we’re privileged as professional athletes that it’s my full-time job to recover.
“I’ve had mates who’ve done their ACL and had to work 10-12 hours a day on tools, then do their rehab.
“From that regard, it made me have a bit of perspective.”
Welch kept himself busy during his rehabilitation including completing a Bachelor of Business. He also spoke to some former Storm players who had suffered the same injury.
“We’ve had a fair few boys - Matt Duffie, Slade Griffin - guys who had done ACLs, and done a couple,” he said.
“We’ve got a great strength and conditioning department - they were a great sounding board and helped me get back.”
When the chance to hit the field in purple, he didn’t disappoint, playing strongly in the Storm’s 38-4 World Club Challenge win over Leeds on Friday night.
Despite the long lay-off, Welch said he felt good leading into the big game.
“I’ve been pretty confident,” he said.
“I think having a full pre-season has been pretty helpful, but also just being part of our pack. There’s been a fair few of us who have been together for a few years now, and coming through with Nelson (Asofa-Solomona) in the under 20s together.
“It’s actually a really tight unit and good blend of different types of players, attacking and defensive, and we really work hard for each other.”
Winning the trophy helped the 23-year-old move on from missing the Storm’s 2017 premiership win.
“Missing out on the finals series and potentially playing that grand final - it was a bit bittersweet for me, so being able to play in that World Club Challenge was really enjoyable for me to be part of that,” he said.