Wests Tigers veteran Chris Lawrence has been to hell and back.
After his face was shattered during a freak training accident in New Zealand earlier this year, his injuries were described by surgeons as consistent with a car accident.
Nursing broken cheekbones, nose, jaw and teeth, he considered this would be the end of his 227-game NRL career.
But he didn’t give up on himself. And miraculously, he is only weeks away from returning to the field, highlighting his intense commitment to the club and his undeniable toughness. “Yeah, probably straight away,” he said when asked if he thought it would end him.
“Once it happened, over the next few days after the injury it started to unravel how serious it was. Initially I knew it was pretty bad but I didn’t know to what extent.
“Once I saw the surgeons they told me how many bones I’d fractured in my face it started to become apparent.
“They hadn’t seen anything like it before in rugby league.
“It was more like a car accident — that sort of put the recovery in limbo because I didn’t know how long I was going to be out because there wasn’t any precedent to go by.”
He had to stay in New Zealand for an extra four days before he was cleared to fly home to Australia, for fear any additional swelling could affect his eye sight.
After surgery to put plates in his face, he said there was around six or seven weeks where he couldn’t do any training. He was house bound, and couldn’t get his heart rate up.
The 30-year-old father of one had nothing to do except sit at home and wait for his face to heal.
Naturally, his weight dropped — and so did his fitness.
But after getting the all-clear from the surgeons, he set his intent to return to the field.
Over the past six weeks he’s being going through a pre-season of his own, building up his weight again and regaining the fitness that frustratingly slipped away.
Slowly but surely, he’s fighting his way back to the field.
And he’s not scared of copping a knock to the head — he says his face is stronger than it was before.
“I’d always said that if I was advised by surgeons or doctors that I shouldn’t take the field, that it would cause further injury or that I would be at risk, that would make the decision easier,” he said.
“But I was reassured from the get go that once I got surgery that there’d be no effects going forward. For me that gave me the all-clear that I could get back on the field.”
Lawrence is eyeing off a return to the field after the Round 12 bye.