Prior climbs out of hospital bed to inspire his team
Cronulla prop Matt Prior has built his 11-season NRL career on selfless acts and Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has hailed his effort to lift himself from a hospital bed to play a decisive role in the 10-9 victory over Gold Coast as "very special".
Prior had been in hospital on a drip from Wednesday until Friday with a blood infection in his arm and Flanagan had resigned himself to adding the 30-year-old workhorse to his list of absent forwards that already included Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis and Wade Graham.
He only arrived on the Gold Coast on Friday night to join the rest of the team, then had to leave the ground 30 minutes after full-time to join his partner Rebecca, who is due to give birth to their first child.
Prior's inclusion despite not participating in any training sessions in the lead-up to the match shows how important he is to the Sharks, who have put their season back on track with successive victories over the Panthers and Titans.
"To get out [of hospital] and jump on a plane and play NRL football after laying in bed for two days, it's a pretty special effort," said Flanagan.
"We prepared all week that he wouldn't be here. The question was put by the medical staff [whether Prior should play]. He was adamant that he was going to play and he came out and played well.
He's on the way to catch a plane now because his wife is heavily pregnant."
Prior played 57 minutes, made 23 tackles and ran for 100 metres in a dour which was decided by a Chad Townsend field goal in the 79th minute.
Wollongong-raised Prior's record of playing 208 games and winning premierships with St George in 2010 and Cronulla in 2016, along with his ability to consistently pull off telling defensive plays and still do the clever stuff with the ball, makes him perfect for State of Origin football.
"He wouldn't be out of place there; his defence is his best attribute," said team-mate Andrew Fifita, a veteran of 10 Origins for NSW. "If you're looking for someone who does the job and is always turning up by your side, Matty Prior is your man."