It was the conversation Lachlan Fitzgibbon didn't want to have. The advice he didn't want to hear.
His shoulder was busted. He knew that better than anyone. Deadness in his arm at training during pre-season contact told him as much. But still he didn't want to hear it. Didn't want to face the inevitable.
The Knights backrower had already undergone off-season pelvic mesh surgery. The last thing he wanted was to go under the knife again.
Ironically, it was the pelvis operation and being laid up after it that led to the deterioration of the muscles around his shoulder problem that had been masking the injury for 12 months.
He played with it in 2020, building up the muscles in his shoulder enough to get him through. But as soon as those same muscles wasted through lack of use after the surgery, the full extent of his shoulder issue was exposed.
"I took a couple of big hits on it during some contact at training and I knew I was in trouble again," he said.
Then came the chat.
"We had the discussion of playing through without surgery and the risk versus the reward of that," Fitzgibbon said. "It was a really tough one because the elephant in the room for me was obviously the fact I'm off contract this year and getting this surgery was going to put me out for a third of the season. That wasn't easy to ignore.
"In the end, the decision was taken out of my hands to some degree."
Knights coach Adam O'Brien says the right call was made.
"It was the right thing to do for Lachie first and foremost," O'Brien said. "He's a relatively young guy in an off-contract year so rather than make him nurse his way through the season, the right call was made to go and get it fixed. He's back now and there's a lot of footy still to be played."
At the time, Fitzgibbon was looking at a round 10 return after his shoulder was reconstructed and his bicep, which was also damaged, repaired.
Instantly, he told himself that if he couldn't impress the powers-that-be on the field, he would impress them with his dedication to his recovery off it.
"My first goal with my rehab was to prove to Adz [O'Brien] and Phil [CEO Gardner] and Virus [recruitment head Clint Zammit] that even though I wasn't out on the field, I was 100 percent dedicated and committed to getting back as soon as I could in the best possible shape," he said. "I think I've shown that over the past few months, getting back three weeks earlier than expected. So that is the first box ticked. Now it's about getting out there and playing some good footy. I'm feeling good and just excited to play."
Fitzgibbon says he has no issue with coming back through the NSW Cup competition.
"My last game was that semifinal loss against the Bunnies last year so I don't have a problem with it," he said. "I'm looking forward to punching out 80 minutes in reggies. I don't want to be playing 50 or 60 minutes. I want to gas out and get the cobwebs out and take it from there.
"It will be a tough footy game, it's not going to be a walk in the park so I'm definitely looking forward to it and super excited."
Fitzgibbon admits his rehab was a "tough slog" but his shoulder feels strong and physically, he says he has never felt fitter.
"I was with the rehab team for the best part of six months and they got me through it and I'm really grateful to them for that. It responded really well to the rehab too which is a real positive," he said. "In terms of my running fitness, I'm actually feeling as fit as I've been for a long while. That's because I've almost done a six-month pre-season of just running and I'm ready to give it a good red-hot crack."
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