Aspir­ing All Black fight­ing to res­ur­rect ca­reer

Herald on Sunday - - IN OTHER NEWS - Christo­pher Reive

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.”

Photo / Photosport

Mitchell Gra­ham hasn’t played since badly break­ing his leg play­ing for the Chiefs at the Bris­bane Tens in Fe­bru­ary 2017.

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