Benji Marshall reveals his fears for fearless Wests Tigers teammate Chris Lawrence
Seventeen months ago Wests Tigers stalwart Chris Lawrence suffered an injury that left teammate Benji Marshall crying in the changerooms – a fact that makes Saturday’s milestone all the more remarkable.
Fatima Kdouh, The Daily Telegraph
August 7, 2020 2:33pm
Benji Marshall has recalled the day his mate Chris Lawrence suffered a horror facial injury.
Seventeen months ago Chris Lawrence sat on a Whangarei training field in New Zealand struggling to breathe and choking on his blood.
West Tigers veteran Benji Marshall motions to his throat as he tries to describe the cackling sound Lawrence made every time the forward tried to take another breath.
“It’s the worst injury I have ever seen, ever,” Marshall said.
“Without bringing back too many bad memories or make it too gory but he was sitting there choking on his own blood waiting for an ambulance trying to keep himself calm.
CHRIS LAWRENCE: FACIAL INJURIES
busted eye sockets
Required eight plates to put his face back together that won’t ever be removed
“Man, the ambulance took an hour.
“He was sitting there in shock, his body shaking. There was nothing we could do.
“I swear to god, there was a chance he could have died.
“You could hear the blood, the blood man, in the back of his throat … I lost my shit, I was crying. I was rattled, I was rattled for two or three weeks.”
A shocking head clash with Ben Matulino left Lawrence with injuries so severe his face had caved in. Specialists at the time likened the impact to a car accident.
Other Tigers teammates say it was almost like Mautalino’s head was imprinted into the face of Lawrence.
The extent of the club stalwart’s injuries were staggering.
Lawrence, 31, had a broken nose, broken eye sockets, broken cheekbones, a collapsed palate, dislodged teeth and a broken jaw. It took eight plated to rebuild his face and left him unrecognisable.
To Marshall, Lawrence’s ability to overcome the horrific injuries and take the field Saturday night against Newcastle in what will be the forward’s 250th NRL match is the most impressive thing he has since during a rugby league career that has spanned over 18 seasons.
“Seeing him afterwards, his face just looked so different. But it was like it was just nothing for him. He’s brushed it off and come back,” Marshall said.
“When you talk about toughness, it’s a word that gets thrown around pretty loosely … he sums it up for me. I spent a lot of time playing with Chris. How he has come back from all his injuries.
“To come back from that and to throw himself into tackles like he is now … there is no fear. I don’t think I have seen anyone else come back from something like that.”
Remarkably, Lawrence not only recovered enough to return to the football field but to play 22 games out of a possible 24 since the head clash in March last year.
But there was a time Lawrence didn’t believe he would take the field Saturday night for the milestone match.
“I thought I had played my last game. I remember pretty clearly at the time, I wasn’t in a good way and when my wife came over to New Zealand and saw me, she was pretty upset. I said to her ‘if surgeons advise not to play again, I wouldn’t’,” Lawrence said.
“I was fortunate enough to get the all clear to come back.”
Before the facial fractures Lawrence had already suffered through a number of serious injuries since bursting onto the scene as a 17-year old schoolboy in 2006.
In 2011, Lawrence dislocated his hip, an injury so bad it required the strength of six people to put his leg back into place.
They are the kind of adversities, that according to Marshall, who is also playing his 250th match for the Tigers Saturday, make Lawrence the ‘heart and soul’ of the joint venture outfit.
“When I say he is the heart and soul of the Wests Tigers I mean it because he puts his body on the line. The amount of things he has been through injury wise for this club is just mind blowing.” Marshall said.
“I said to Chris ‘I’m really proud of you, you have no right to be here, you could be off sailing on a yacht having fun but you are still here putting your body through torture after what you have been through.”
LAWRENCE’S JOURNEY FROM SCHOOLBOY SENSATION TO 250-GAME VETERAN
Chris Lawrence was just 17 when his life changed forever – but he didn’t realise just how different things would be until a fateful trip to a McDondald’s at Woodbine.
Lawrence was still in Year 12 in 2006 when he made his NRL debut for the Tigers against Brisbane.
He scored a slashing try, where he put the afterburners on Test and Origin star Shaun Berrigan, and the Tigers got up 20-6, but the very next day he was back at St Gregory’s College Campbelltown for a trial HSC exam, just like everyone else.
Chris Lawrence remains the youngest player to debut for the Wests Tigers.
Or that’s what he thought — until he and his mates ducked down to McDonalds between exams.
“As a 17-year old kid that’s what we did after our exams, there were no cafes back then near St Gregs at Campbelltown, so we’d go hang out at the local Maccas,” Lawrence said.
“We’d do it every week but after that [game] there were people with cameras taking photos of us and we were sitting there smiling.
“I’ve never really loved the attention that much so to be honest it was a bit overwhelming. I think my mates liked it more than me, they were loving it.
“I think being thrust into the spotlight like that, it was very overwhelming. I think I was fortunate I still had my HSC and study to go because I had good role models around me like my parents to make sure I focused on my studies.”
At 17 years and 283 days old at the time of his debut, Lawrence is still the youngest player in Tigers history, a record that is unlikely to ever be broken given the NRL now prohibits players under the age of 18 from playing first grade.
On Saturday, he will become the third player to appear in 250 matches for the joint venture, along with Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall, who also brings up the milestone in the must-win clash against the Knights.
Lawrence is off-contract at season’s end and would need to play at least one more season to knock off Farah’s club record of 277 first grade matches.
- By Fatima Kdouh and Nick Campton