July 20, 2024

‘Look at it every day’: The photo fuelling 350-day comeback`… and feeling star ‘never’ wants to forget

Before Jayden Brailey runs out at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday he’ll take one last look at a photo that’s in his locker.

It’s a photo of the Knights’ squad after their extra-time win over the Raiders in week one of the finals last season.

In it, his teammates are a little battered and bruised, but elated after sneaking home with a penalty goal to keep their season alive. Brailey — the forgotten man during Newcastle’s 10-game winning streak — is kneeling on the side in his club suit.

That image is a big motivator for Brailey, who is set to play his first game in 350 days after a hamstring injury suffered at training delayed his return by two weeks.

The 27-year-old had barely missed a beat in pre-season, completing what he estimated was “90 per cent” of the sessions after recovering from an ACL injury.

He was meant to play Round 1 until a cruel twist of faith, but will finally get his shot after being named on the bench for Sunday’s clash with the Storm.

It’s an important game for the Knights, who are chasing their first win of the season, but you could argue it’s even more important for Brailey as an individual.

To really understand the gravity of this return though, you need insight into the trauma the ACL injury caused Brailey — and the Knights hooker sat down with foxsports.com.au to unpack it all.

It was a Sunday afternoon in April — Brailey’s 27th birthday, actually. The Knights were up by four against the Warriors at McDonald Jones Stadium when Brailey stayed down after a tackle.

He was assisted from the field as those watching on held their breath.

Brailey has had a horror run of injuries — a previous ACL rupture and a torn Achilles — so you couldn’t blame anyone for automatically fearing the worst.

But those fears were eased later in the second half when word came from the Knights’ shed that the initial diagnosis was a meniscus tear. He’d of course still be sent for scans though.

“I didn’t think I had done it (ACL). Because it was really painful and the last time I did, it wasn’t painful it just felt unstable,” Brailey recalled.

“But this one was very painful, my knee was locked. I couldn’t straighten my knee and I couldn’t put any weight on it.

“I thought it was just meniscus, which I had never done before. I was preparing for six weeks (on the sideline) max.”

It was a “nervous” wait for scan results for Brailey, who had his family up from Sydney to celebrate his birthday.

Those celebrations were short-lived though when he got the dreaded phone call.

“The next day when the doctor called me, he said ‘can you come into the club just to chat about your scan results?’ In the car I knew (what was coming). If it was just meniscus he would’ve told me,” Brailey said.

The scans confirmed an ACL rupture and torn meniscus. It was in the same knee he suffered an ACL injury in back in his second game for the Knights — Round 2, 2020.

“I was a little bit embarrassed, a little bit ashamed,” a brave Brailey admitted when asked about his initial reaction to the news.

It was a kick in the guts for the former Shark. Even he was “in denial” at first because he thought surely one player can’t have this much bad luck.

“It was playing up a little in the game, something wasn’t right but I’ve always been a little naive thinking ‘I’ve my bad patch (of injuries), it shouldn’t happen again, it just shouldn’t because I put everything into my rehab’,” he said.

But it did and that’s why it was “for sure” the toughest injury he’s ever experienced — both physically and mentally.

Another lengthy sideline stint forced Brailey to “work really hard” on his mental health, focus on perspective and rediscover his sense of self away from the field.

“I did something where I drew up different parts of my life and what’s important to me away from football. I’ve really focused on those things,” he said.

“I think changing my perspective around who I am as a person — I’m more than a footy player. It’s a big part of my life but there has to be more to life.

“I feel like it’s made me a stronger person away from the field.

“I’ve learnt a lot of tools to help with my mental health and I’m sitting in a really good spot now, I really appreciate being healthy — I never take it for granted that’s for sure.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *