You have to be tough to play Rugby League, but Chris McQueen displayed toughness of the highest order when he took the field for the first time on Saturday after invasive neck surgery.
He went under the knife for a C5C6 disk replacement as well as a C6C7 vertebrae fusion after he complained of severe nerve pain and 'burners down his arms. It makes his return to one of the toughest sports on the planet truly remarkable.
The premiership-winning representative returned in Western Suburbs Magpies colours in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW at ANZ Stadium, the ground where he last played at in Round 15 in July last year.
“It was pretty scary,” McQueen told NSWRL.com.au of the surgery.
“I guess the good thing was that I already signed my [Wests Tigers] contract here, so I had my eyes set on a return date on coming back to footy.
“Injuries happen and I got a lot of advice before the surgery, so I was never in doubt that I could get back on the field.”
That advice came from a wide range of professionals including surgeons and doctors, but it also came from teammates in similar situations.
He won the premiership in 2014 with Kyle Turner, who to this day wears a neck brace after injuring himself in the 2015 All Stars match.
McQueen also played with Nathan Peats at both South Sydney and the Gold Coast Titans, who played almost an entire half of football with a broken neck for the Parramatta Eels.
“I spoke to Nathan Peats because he broke his neck and he’s had a fusion, and I spoke to Kyle Turner who had a disk replacement,” McQueen said.
“I also saw two different surgeons as well as team doctors at the Titans last year, and all of the recommendations were to get the surgery and that I’d be better off for it.
“So it was a scary sort of thing, but I knew it was the best thing to do.”
McQueen played for the Magpies on Saturday as he hasn’t played since last July, but there is little doubt that NRL is on his radar.
He insists, however, that his wellbeing is the major priority and he certainly won’t rush into anything before he is ready.
For the moment, he got through today’s game without issue, which certainly is confidence boosting for the former Queensland representative.
“I got tested, a few times I landed on my neck, but other than that I’ve come out of it with no problem, so I’ll take a lot of confidence out of that,” McQueen said.
“I certainly want to use this as a springboard back to first grade but I do need to get used to that contact again and playing 80 minutes week in, week out.
“I’m in no hurry to get back up to first grade, I certainly need to make sure I’m ready for the NRL level before I get back there, but that’s where I want to be.”
When asked if he was ever a chance of retiring due to the serious surgery, his response was a true testament of how tough McQueen really is.
“Not in my mind there wasn’t, no.”