Slipper refreshed and ready to fire

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

Just over 11 months ago, a downtrodden James Slipper hobbled through Brisbane airport, faced the cameras and declared he would be back, better than ever.

It's been a long, lonely road back but with the Reds' Super Rugby season opener just six days away, Slipper is well on his way to fulfilling that promise.

It's a testament to Slipper that he has returned in career best shape, as achilles injuries can cruel careers.

They test an athlete's mental fortitude as much as they do physical, with hours of tedious rehabilitation the only way to rebuild a tendon which is so critical to an athlete's power. 

"There were definitely periods where I struggled," Slipper told RUGBY.com.au.Slipper went through some tough stretches off field. Photo: Getty Images"Not contributing to the team on the field was pretty tough for myself.

"Having been there for nine years on the field there was periods... you're on crutches for three months and then you're on the boot for another two months on top of that.

"You're consistently not doing much at all.

"You come in here, you do your physio, you do your exercise and then you go home and you still can't do anything.

"You end up getting into a bit of a groundhog day where you can't really stimulate yourself, physically.

"For me, it just showed me the importance of staying positive."It's the positivity that Slipper preaches, along with some rewarding visits to rural Queensland communities, which helped guide the 28-year-old through rehab.

Slipper spent time in rural Queensland communities last year. Photo: QRU Media/Brendan Hertel"The thing that helped me through the most was doing a lot of promos for the Reds," Slipper said.

"I got to visit a lot of Queensland towns - Cherbourg, Bundaberg, Cairns - I invested a lot of time into the grassroots and Queensland rugby in general.

"It was helpful for the club itself to promote the game but it was also good for myself to feel like I was adding value to the club."

Using those experiences off field, the turned a big negative into a positive which has helped him hit reset on his love for rugby.

At 28, he already has 86 Test caps and 95 Super Rugby caps to his name.

That's an inordinate amount of football at an age where props tend to peak.Slipper is feeling refreshed after a lengthy injury layoff. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyAs a result, some at Ballymore quietly suggested the injury would do Slipper a world of good, having essentially played non-stop since making his Super Rugby debut in 2010.

"I got to step back from the rugby side of things and invest some time in other areas of my life," Slipper said.

"I did eight seasons without any rest, played a lot of rugby early in my career.

"Taking a step back gave me an opportunity to fix my body up everywhere else, as well.

"Coming back off an injury layoff, it's freshening.

"I really enjoy coming back to work everyday and training.Slipper will take a step back from captaincy this year. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley"I'm feeling fresh now but I know there is still plenty of work to do."

A Wallabies jersey surely beckons, should Slipper fulfil the promise to bounce back.

"That is a goal of mine - to play rugby for the Wallabies again and represent my country again.

"But there is a lot of rugby to be played between now and then.

"I'm just keeping my head down rather than worrying about what could happen."

The Reds travel to Melbourne for their Super Rugby season opener against the Rebels, kicking off at AAMI Park at 7:45pm AEDT, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS.