ERICK Lee's real value to the Newcastle Knights is perhaps most apparent when he's not playing.
The towering winger is back in training after breaking his left arm for the second time in little more than 12 months, and while his goal is to return for the business end of this season, Newcastle's medical staff will be erring on the side of caution.
Statistics highlight the understated role Lee plays on the Knights' left edge.
In his 22 games since arriving from Cronulla at the start of last season, Newcastle have registered 13 wins at a strike rate of 59 per cent.
Of the 13 games he has missed through injury, they have won only three, at 23 per cent.
Since he was forced from the field in the round-eight win against Manly, his teammates have been beaten by Parramatta (10-4) and Canterbury (18-12), with a 20-18 win against South Sydney sandwiched between the two defeats.
Asked on Wednesday about his prognosis, Lee said the plan was to be fit for the "back end" of the season but admitted there were no guarantees.
"We're not taking it too quickly this time ... we're just trying to take it day by day," he said.
"Leaving it to the back end of the year, there could be a couple of complications along the way.
"We've just got to take it slowly and, fingers crossed, if we do everything right, hopefully we can speed it up."
It is understandable that the specialists are advising against a rushed return.
As well as breaking his left arm twice, Lee suffered a season-ending fracture to his right arm when playing for Canberra in 2013.
This time his surgeon has extended the metal plate attached to the bone for extra reinforcement.
"There isn't really anything to work out why it happened again," Lee said. "I guess it's just the nature of high-contact sport. Something has to give, and unfortunately it was my arm .. but this time around, second time around, we're just trying to find the reasons why it happened, and how to make it a bit better, a bit stronger, and hopefully make that back end [of the season]."
In Lee's absence, former North Queensland centre Enari Tuala has done a solid job as a stopgap flanker.
"Injuries are a part of rugby league, but it also shows the depth that you have in your squad," Lee said.
Like teammate Connor Watson, who ruptured his Achilles tendon against the Bulldogs, Lee was disappointed not to to play in this week's NRL Indigenous Round.
"It means a lot, obviously, to represent your culture on a stage like the NRL," Lee said.
"It's more rewarding. As I was growing up, I've been really close to my culture and to display it through all teams with the jerseys, it's a great initiative by the NRL.
"It's definitely a proud moment.
"When I was a young kid, there were obviously Indigenous players that I supported in general ... one of my stars in rugby league was Wendell Sailor. He's definitely someone I wanted to be like in the backyard."
While you're with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here
IN OTHER NEWS
- NRL: Tim Glasby's career suffers knockout blow as medical retirement looms
- NRL: Rookie Crossland gets his chance as Knights' injury crisis deepens
- A-League: Irish legend trades Jets for English League Two club Cambridge
- NNSW WPL: Olympic centre back Stacey Day out for 2020 season
- Racing: Andrew Gibbons claims maiden NSW jockey's premiership