When Waratahs flanker Brad Wilkin was named for his Super Rugby debut this week, he wasn’t going overboard with celebrations.
That’s because he’s had that feeling before, named in the NSW 23 ahead of round one in 2017, before a second consecutive ACL injury ended his chance before it started.
“I wanted to keep it under wraps and I wasn't showing too much emotion just because I've been in that position before, knowing that I was maybe on the bench and I didn't get the outcome so I just wanted to put my head down and have a good training session (on Thursday) and get on the plane and head over to New Zealand on Friday,” he said.
It’s been a tough two years for Wilkin, who has had two consecutive knee reconstructions and a shoulder reconstruction, ‘just to get everything done’ in his two seasons at the Waratahs.
Wilkin signed with the Waratahs ahead of the 2016 season, going down in training with his first ACL injury, and had just gotten back to full fitness, when his other knee gave way.
At just 23, the backrower said he never really considered giving up the game, but there were plenty of ‘demons’ when he went down a second time, right on the verge of a debut.
“I felt like I got back to some good fitness and got picked in the team and to go down two days out from my potential debut was a very hard pill to swallow and mentally there was a lot of demons to fight off through the rehab process,” he said.
“It was a long nine months of training alone or with the rehab partners that I had at the time and pushing through the highs and lows of a long-term injury got quite challenging at times.”
Wilkin’s family and close friends helped the youngster work through the rehab rollercoaster, he said.
“They were always there for me to keep me encouraged through the journey,” he said.
“They were my first point of call to talk through things when I was feeling I wasn't getting anywhere in my rehab or I was getting excited because I was progressing in my rehab, they were there to keep me level-headed and focused on the long-term goal, which was to eventually get back on the field and playing.”
The 23-year-old has been a standout for Sydney Uni in the Shute Shield in recent weeks and said that had given him full faith that he was ready to take the next step.
“I've played quite a few games now and obviously it takes a while to get that confidence back but I feel after I've played a fair few games now, that confidence is 100% there and it's not even really a thought that crosses my mind anymore,” he said.
Wilkin’s inclusion was a lift for his teammates too, who have watched him work his way through setbacks, skipper Michael Hooper said.
“He's an outstanding player and he's an outstanding person as well,” he said.
“(He’s) someone who loves coming in and training in this club and has been training against a lot of setbacks over the last couple of years, and keeps toiling away, keeps working for an opportunity like this to come and show his stuff in a big game and I'm really excited for him to run out there and excited for the team to be able to help him with that.
“We've all been there through his tough times and hopefully this is a good one for them.”