Late in Manly’s 31-6 win over Canterbury, Tolu Koula dislodged the ball on his own goalline with a thudding ribs tackle. Quick as a flash, the ball moved to Tom Trbojevic and the moment had arrived: could he go like he used to?
Instead, the injury-plagued fullback opted against the length-of-the-field sprint and took the tackle. It was a perplexing moment.
Turbo’s fitness has been one of the enduring sagas of the last few years of the NRL – in the team, he won the Dally M, but so often, he’s out of it.
After his first game back from a ten month layoff and a trip to America to fix his troublesome hamstring, Trbojevic laughed off the idea that he was avoiding stretching his legs, and instead said it was due to a combination of tiredness – and not wanting to lose a footrace to covering winger Josh Addo-Carr.
“I knew I would have lost so I didn’t want to embarrass myself,” he joked. “I was pretty tired throughout that second half. I was cramping up a bit through the calf. It’s good to be back playing footy and I definitely could open up.
“We were coming off the back of cage D (goalline) where you have to work pretty hard.
“I’ve definitely cramped up before. It’s hard to prepare to play footy. I haven’t played for almost ten months now and it was a hot day out there, so that just happens. There’s no issue, it’s all good.”
Turbo scored early and set up another for hat trick hero Daly Cherry-Evans in an impressive return to the NRL. According to the man himself, it had been a fraught week that capped off a long, dark period of rehab.
“It was a very nervous week having not played for a while,” said Turbo.
“I just wanted to get back out there. Before going over when I hurt myself I was very frustrated. I had issues with the hammy earlier on and I thought I was through them, and maybe (I was) complacent in that so it’s frustrating.
“But going over there (to the USA) and learning a lot and understand what you have to do every day and every week to be the best athlete you can be and put you in the best position to play footy for 80 minutes and be confident in doing that – that’s what I took from that time over there.
“You don’t want to get ahead of yourself, you have to take it week by week and keep working hard to put your best self out there.
“With anyone who comes back from a hammy injury, it’s good to get that first game out of the way. It was a challenging rehab. It was good to go overseas and get work done, but challenging and you’ve always got that first game back that you want to get through and knock out the way.”
The fullback said he wasn’t aware of the public feeling around his injuries – but was aware of who was likely chasing him.
“I’m not sure of what people say externally, but I know I can play in this footy team and have no limitations on my movement,” he said. “I certainly never think I’m going outrun the Foxx though! I didn’t think that I could do that before and I’d like to let everyone know that it isn’t a possibility.”
Mike Meehall Wood is a rugby league writer, Celtic supporter and cricket tragic. He has written extensively about rugby league for publications in the UK and Australia, and about sports more widely for Forbes, VICE, LADbible and more.