Watmough: I was ready to retire
Dyldam Parramatta Eels forward Anthony Watmough says when his injuries got so bad in 2015 he couldn't even walk he was convinced his time had come to retire – until some magic from the Parramatta medical team identified and corrected a single problem at the source of his woes.
After struggling with a medial ligament injury throughout his first year in blue and gold, Watmough's season was formally ended after a Round 19 loss to Canterbury.
He had surgery to repair the issue but burning muscle pain in the early stages of his recovery convinced the former Blues and Kangaroos stalwart it was time to hang up the boots – until Eels club physio Josh Rigg convinced him otherwise.
With three years to run on a high-profile deal that saw him follow coach Brad Arthur out from Manly, it emerged many of Watmough's muscles had deteriorated from lack of use as he grew to compensate for his medial injury by placing more load on other muscles.
"I thought I was going to retire to tell you the truth, I thought I was gone," Watmough said.
"I spoke to the physio, I couldn't run. The first time I tried to run my legs were just on fire. I just said to him 'I'm done, I've had enough I'm done.'
"I said 'I can't run, I can't walk, I literally can't even hop'. I couldn't stand on my left leg and it was just done."
Rigg asked him how he felt about it and Watmough's response was "that's life, I'm ready. If it's my time to go it's my time to go, I've had a great run."
But Rigg insisted the burning was a new issue caused by an attempt to re-use muscles that had gone unused for so long.
"I learned to favour it too much, so the muscles just died. My hammy, glute, calf didn't work and we didn't realise how bad it was but obviously over the years it just kept declining," Watmough said.
"As soon as they reattached [the medial] I could feel muscles that I hadn't felt in years. And then all of a sudden they just started chucking fits and they all just locked out one day, when I was at training, they were just on fire, I couldn't walk, I couldn't do anything."
Rigg told Watmough he would have to go back to square one and learn how to run again, which has been a painful but rewarding process.
"He wanted me to run just in a straight line for five metres and I couldn't do that the first day. I came back a week later and ran for two minutes, next week five minutes.
"I said to him 'how did that happen, I was done' and he goes 'I told you to just trust me. It was just your muscles, because they hadn't worked for so long that they didn't know how to work and when they all started firing at once they just all spasmed. Knocked out your hammy, knocked out your calf and that's what the burning feeling was.'"
Watmough said this week he progressed to 7.5km in three blocks along with other fitness activities such as cycling, which was an encouraging sign.
"It was seven-and-a-half kilometres in the legs and that was the big test, is to run that and to be able to turn up [the next day] and run again and if that happens next week I'll be sweet to come back."
Watmough will be keen to make up for lost time after never finishing on the injured list in his 13 previous NRL seasons. In fact, 2015 was the first time since 2004 that Watmough hasn't featured in an NRL finals series.
Being one of the few experienced faces in a forward pack brimming with powerful young Polynesian players who are big, mobile and formidable but for the most part short on NRL and finals experience, Watmough was brought in as much for his leadership around the group as his on-field potential. However he would have been hoping to lead from the front more than he was able in 2015.
"It was not the year I wanted to have at Parra. I wanted to have a bit more of an impact than what I did," he said of his underwhelming and injury-wrecked season.
"It was probably a blessing that I went to Parra and they found out what it was and were able to fix it.
"It wasn't the greatest of debuts for a club [but] in saying that, injury-wise it was good to get there and they figured out what it was straight away and we fixed it. It will be the first time I've been able to run properly in about five years.
"It's been pretty surreal the last five weeks, learning how to run again.
"I'll be back hopefully in full training by January doing contact and everything. But I'll be back with the boys next week doing skills."