NSW flanker Jack Dempsey feels he can return to his best rugby after making his long-awaited rugby comeback with the Sydney Rays on Saturday.
Dempsey played 31 minutes in the Rays’ 61-40 loss to Brisbane City on Woollahra Oval’s synthetic turf, his first match since injuring his hamstring against the Barbarians in October last year.
The 24-year-old made an impressive break with his first touch and though a lack of match fitness got the better of him late, he was a standout for the Rays in just half an hour.
“I felt really good,” he said.
“First five was good and then hit a bit of a wall there, which is obvious when you've been out for that long just in terms of the lungs and the legs were a bit jelly.
“Then we kind of hit that second wind towards the end (and I was) feeling pretty good by the end.
“I'm pretty happy with that in terms of the first outing.”
The return reinforced to Dempsey that he could return to the form he found in 2017 that earned him a Wallabies debut.
“All through rehab, in the dark times, you ask yourself whether you'll be the same type of player when you get back,” he said.
“It's good to know I've got a lot of explosiveness still in my game but that'll just get even better now as my fitness comes up and my eyes get back in...so it's all looking good from here.”
Rays coach Chris Whitaker was full of praise for Dempsey in his 30-minute cameo.
“He was good, very good but you can tell there's a couple of guys out there that are a different level,” he said.
“Obviously when Demmo came on you could tell he was a different level.”
The 24-year-old flanker is unlikely to play in Wednesday’s Sydney-Country derby match, though he would be keen to keep playing as often as possible.
His return is being closely monitored by Waratahs medical staff, with a limit on his minutes on Saturday.
Whitaker isn’t counting on having Dempsey available but said his recovery should be the priority.
“If I was a betting man, I'd say no (he won’t be playing),” he said.
“He's worked too hard (for 11 months) to not look at every single detail of his return back for the sake of one game.
“Maybe they'll let him but I don't know that's not my call.”
Saturday’s game was the first of three in eight days for the Rays, who play Country on Wednesday before hosting the Fijian Drua on Sunday week, and Whitaker will be on the hunt for more reinforcements than just a replacement for Dempsey.
No. 8 Patrick Sio (knee), hooker Damien Fitzpatrick (ribs) and replacement back Will Harrison (ankle) all looked to have injury problems ahead of the short turnaround.
The Rays are already down on troops, especially in the backs, with Cam Clark, John Folau and Pama Fou both nursing hamstring strains and unlikely to return for a fortnight.