Manly back-rower Andrew Davey was already an unlikely success story when he made his NRL debut at the age of 28 for the Eels – but his latest comeback from a knee reconstruction at age 30 is truly remarkable.
Davey was recruited by Parramatta from the Intrust Super Cup and played 10 games for the Eels in 2020 after earning player of the year honours for feeder club Wentworthville in 2019 before signing on with Manly.
He came off the bench in round one last year and earned a starting spot in round two but ruptured his ACL just minutes into his first run-on start for the club.
His age, injury and the emergence of young back-row tyros Josh Schuster and Haumole Olakau'atu had more than a few pundits penning his rugby league obituary.
"They must have forgotten who they were talking about," Davey grinned to NRL.com after his first run-on start since the injury, in round three's 13-12 win over Canterbury.
"This is the same bloke who debuted at the age of 28, that was never going to be the end of me mate. I live for that hard work and nothing changed. I dedicated myself to my rehab."
NRL Round Up - Round 3
Davey admitted it was "heartbreaking" to suffer the injury while on the cusp of a breakout season.
"In 2021 I think I played 38 minutes for the club. It was heart-breaking, obviously, that sort of injury," Davey said.
"It was a long rehab process and it wasn't straightforward. It threw us a few curve balls but that's nothing new to me. I've battled my whole life. I enjoy the battle and the struggle and the grind."
It's taken Davey just three weeks of his comeback season to displace hard-running utility forward and ex-Bronco Ethan Bullemor in Manly's run-on side, though Davey admits the impending return of Schuster could change the equation – though not his goals.
"There definitely is (more competition now)," Davey said.
"Those boys came in and didn't miss a beat, they did really well. It's a bit unfortunate that Schuey has hurt himself, he's a great football player, has that natural ability. That's what fans love.
"I probably can't do what he does any more, I probably used to when I was 22 but my part that I play in the team is being tough, providing that punch, if I keep doing that I'm sure Des will find a spot in the side for me somewhere.
"I know what I'm capable of and by no means am I finished."
Davey's goals include establishing himself in the starting 13 and, hopefully, commanding an 80-minute spot week-to-week.
"I've always been about, you've got a big dream but you've got little goals you've got to tick off and that's what keeps me motivated," he said.
"My first job was to get back, I did that. Next goal was to start and I've done that. Next goal is to start being that 80 minute player where I can grind. What I offer to the team is something a bit different, that older style head. I think I can be a strong pillar in this side for the rest of the year.
"Manly put their faith in me and 2022's the year to pay them back."
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Describing himself as "just a lad from Mackay who used to stand house frames for a living", Davey admitted it was humbling to even be on the field while Tom Trbojevic scored the first ever try in front of the new Bob Fulton stand.
But in the second year of a two-year deal, his focus is just as much on shoring up his future as it is on enjoying every moment.
"Manly gave me two years and this is the second year. I'm sure my football will speak for itself and whatever is, is. I'm not worried about it. I'm very grateful to be here in the first place," he said.
"Am I going to stop? No. I'm not going to stop. The main thing people said around my injury is 'he's 30 years old, he may be done in the NRL' but like I said before, those people don't know me very well.
"I struggled a lot to get here so I'm not going to give up at the first hurdle."
But if he does have to move again, well, he'll adapt to that too.
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"I used to be called 'Tumbleweed' when I was younger because I couldn't stand still," he laughed.
"I just rolled from town to town and did whatever was making me money but I have no problem moving wherever it is as long as I enjoy what I do."
As for what looked like it could be a serious shoulder injury suffered in the first half against Canterbury, Davey insisted there were no issues.
"Just a burner on my shoulder, we worked through it," he said.
"While it was warm it was pretty good. I started to get my breath back and I was sweet but we had fresh legs on the bench there with Ethan Bullemor and I probably could have pushed out a few more sets but if it's better for the team I'll take that. Next week I'm looking to build on it and I reckon I could push out 80."
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