Only last year, Newcastle would have sweated on Aidan Guerra’s return from a serious ankle injury.
That is not meant as a knock against the premiership-winning former Australian and Queensland back-rower, who has racked up 183 NRL games in a 10-year career with the Knights and Roosters.
The battle-hardened 31-year-old is poised to make his comeback in Newcastle’s game against Brisbane at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night, having missed their past eight matches while recovering from a dislocated fractured right ankle.
After returning three weeks ahead of schedule in Newcastle’s Canterbury Cup NSW team almost a fortnight ago, Guerra has been named in the No.21 jersey for the game against the Broncos but is expected to be included in Nathan Brown’s interchange rotation.
His timing is impeccable, as Newcastle will be without suspended back-rower Mitch Barnett for their next three games, but Guerra does not feel any need to be their saviour.
Had he suffered the same injury last year, in his first season in Newcastle, there would have been more expectation on him to make an instant impact. The Knights of 2018 were a shadow of the talent-laden 2019 squad sitting fifth after winning six of their past seven games.
“I’m coming in and I’m just going to be another piece to the puzzle, and I’m very happy about that,” Guerra told reporters in Newcastle before training on Tuesday.
“We’re not complete by any means, but we’re a machine that’s working well together and I can just come in and try to add a little something … and keep that momentum going.
“Although we had a little bit of a slip-up against the Storm, I don’t think we’ll forget what happened in the weeks beforehand and what works for us, so I’ll just come in and try to add to that.”
Guerra sustained his injury when his foot slipped and his leg buckled underneath him while trying to tackle Reuben Garrick late in Newcastle’s 26-18 loss to Manly on April 13.
Initially ruled out for up to 12 weeks, he played 40 minutes in Newcastle’s 16-12 loss to Wests Magpies at Campbelltown on June 16. He wanted to return against Melbourne the previous day but the coach said no, meaning Guerra missed their 34-4 loss to the ladder leaders.
“When I felt like I was ready to play, I was knocking on Browny’s door telling him to throw me straight in against Melbourne,” Guerra laughed.
“Thankfully he didn’t listen to me and he made me play reserve grade, and I’m definitely better for that run. I was blowing a bit in that game, and the intensity is different in NSW Cup, so it’s going to be another step up back in the NRL.
“I think the progression has been good … and I got a bit of extra work done in the bye weekend, so I’m keen to get out there and try to contribute to a side that’s been going really well.”
Guerra, who has played at least 21 games a season since 2012, said there was no quick fix to his speedy recovery from the most significant injury he can recall.
“It was spoken about as a 12-week injury but the surgeon was confident I’d be back earlier, and as soon as I got back here our medical team were also confident I’d be back earlier,” he said.
“I still had my sights set on the 12-week mark, and anything before that was going to be a bonus, so fortunately, everything went smoothly in rehab so here we are three weeks ahead.
“I just did what I was told. It’s been a long time since I’ve had an injury that’s held me out of fixtures, and I just wanted to approach it in a positive way.
“Whatever they’d say, I’d just put my faith in the physios and the docs because they have more experience than I do. I know my body so I was giving them feedback on days when it was good and when it wasn’t, but I was fortunate in that I didn’t have too many bad days.
“It just kept improving every day and that’s why it progressed as quickly as it did.”
Guerra played all 24 games in his first season in Newcastle, collecting the club’s “Gladiator” and coach’s awards to acknowledge his consistency during a tough campaign. He came off the bench in the first five games this season and is likely to take the same route when he returns.
Sione Mata’utia has been named to replace Barnett in the starting pack against Brisbane, but Queensland middle forward Tim Glasby is under a cloud after suffering an elbow injury in Queensland's Holden State of Origin II loss.
NSW prop David Klemmer, who like Guerra was named on the extended bench, hopes to return from the fractured wrist he sustained in Origin I in Brisbane on June 5, leaving Brown with a few selection issues to resolve before settling on his team to face the Broncos.