Aspiring All Black fighting to resurrect career
This isn’t how it was meant to be.
Heading into the prime of his career, Mitchell Graham had set his sights on competing for a spot at the 2019 World Cup.
Instead, his days of playing toplevel rugby may be over.
The 27-year-old suffered a gruesome leg injury playing for the Chiefs at the 2017 Brisbane Tens, fracturing the tibia and fibula in his left leg.
The injury was expected to sideline him for six months, but when he returned, he knew something was wrong.
“I played through a fair bit of pain and it wasn’t 100 per cent right,” Graham told the Herald on Sunday.
He decided to focus on a full recovery, but 15 months on, is no closer to a return.
Missing the past two Taranaki Mitre 10 Cup campaigns and this year’s Chiefs Super Rugby season, Graham has been working with a specialist in the hope of getting back to his best. But after several treatments, one major problem has stood in his way.
The specialists and doctors can’t seem to hone in on what’s wrong.
“They’re trying to fix it the best way but they don’t really know how to fix it,” Graham says.
The prop has undergone multiple surgeries, acupuncture and nerve treatments to no avail, with the next option bisphosphonates — which are used to treat osteoporosis.
With several years left to forge a quality career, Graham is hopeful of returning. However, he is aware it might not happen.
“With us trying different things and no one really sure how to fix what I’m doing, there’s definitely a part of me that has accepted the fact I may not play again.
“I just sure as hell hope I do. It’s always the plan to come back. The original plan was to play in the World Cup next year, so that’s still on the cards as long as I can get my leg working.”
While he can get through gym workouts, and cycle, row and scrummage with little or no issues, Graham is unable to run.
He still trains at the Chiefs most days but has lost his place in the squad for 2019 — something he wasn’t happy about but he knew was coming.
“They’re running a business, and at the moment, I’m not a very good investment,” Graham says.
“It is a bit frustrating. It’s not nearly as enjoyable when you’re not playing. The reason you train every day is to be on the field, so spending however many months it’s been for me can get a bit frustrating and tiresome.”
With the Chiefs front row stocks heavily depleted by injuries last season, Graham and his teammates supported each other through their recovery. But while Atu Moli (leg), Nepo Laulala (arm), Aidan Ross (leg), Kane Hames (concussion) and Sosefo Kautai (foot) are expected to play some sort of role for the Chiefs next season, Graham continues to watch from a distance.
“We banded together a little bit, a few of us boys. It’s not an easy time, especially with the big injuries.
“It’s a pretty tight-knit group there, and we all look out for each other and try to make sure people can get themselves through it the best way they can. Once you get through it, you can start thinking about playing rugby again.
“I’ve had a pretty tough year this year, going through it all, but once I can run, I can learn to play rugby again — it’s been a while since I’ve done that. But I’ve got to be able to learn to run, then learn to play rugby, and see what happens from there. It’s definitely part of the plan, but we’ve got to wait and see.”
Mitchell Graham hasn’t played since badly breaking his leg playing for the Chiefs at the Brisbane Tens in February 2017.