Will Harrison reflects on rough journey back to Waratahs

Wed, Apr 3, 2024, 4:32 AM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
NSW Waratahs coach Darren Coleman and Captain Jake Gordon speak after their Round 6 loss to the Melbourne Rebels.

Will Harrison admits it took some time for the magnitude of his achievement to sink in, sitting despondently in the dressing rooms after the NSW Waratahs' tough defeat to Melbourne Rebels.

However, Harrison's journey means more than results on the field, returning after 707 days on the sidelines.

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“I think initially the loss took its toll on me and I probably struggled to see the light but over the 24 hours (after the game) I spoke to lots of friends and family, reflecting on the journey and I think I smelt the roses of realising the achievement," he told reporters.

“It’s a big emotional weight off my shoulders and I’m looking forward to getting week in, week out footy in the sky blue and digging my heels in with the boys."

Harrison has returned from a myriad of setbacks since his original injury in Super Round 2022.

This included a rupture of the patella tendon along with the ACL, leaving him without function of his leg for six weeks.

"I couldn’t lift my leg up by myself,” Harrison explained. 

“If I wanted to get out of bed, I had to get someone to come in and lift me out of bed. If I wanted to have a shower, I needed someone to shower me. If I wanted to get my piss bottle emptied, someone would have to empty it for me.

“Being that disabled, that’s what put things in perspective. There were some dark times in that initial rehab. There were some tough times when there was no function on my leg for six weeks.

“I had some nights there I couldn’t sleep and I felt bad asking my parents to get up.”

During that period, Harrison had to watch on as good mates such as Ben Donaldson lived out the dreams they shared as kids.

“There’s obviously a few things here in the two years where I missed opportunities like the Australia A tours to Fiji or Tonga that I wanted to be a part of," he admits.

“I also saw my mate ‘Dono’ (Ben Donaldson) play a World Cup which I loved to see but that was a goal of mine which is tough.

“I’d say just the opportunities of not being able to be a footballer or be yourself. You’re watching the boys train…it was tough missing the little opportunities to reach my goals and just do what I love.”

Now, Harrison is excited about putting consistent minutes together for the Waratahs, named on the reserves once again to face the Brumbies.

“It’s changed who I am as a person for sure. I got a lot of perspective in rehab and how to be professional around the mental toughness side of the game," he admits.

“I had some really dark days and to find my way out of them I think is a skill that I’ll use not just in football but in life in general.

“I’ve always said that I try to find the positive side of this and I’ve changed for the better not just as a footballer but as a person.”

After making his own injury return last week, Lalakai Foketi returns to the starting side at inside centre, joined by last week's late exclusions Angus Bell and Charlie Gamble.

Mahe Vailanu (knee) has been ruled out for the season, replaced in the starting side by Julian Heaven.

“Mahe is a big loss for us but it’s a good opportunity for Julian," assistant coach Pauli Taumoepeau said.

"He started against the Blues and did really well. We just want him to do his job; solidify our set-piece, carry hard and tackle hard. It’s a good opportunity for him and as coaches we’re just looking for him to bring what naturally comes to his game.”

WARATAHS (1-15): Angus Bell, Julian Heaven, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Jed Holloway, Fergus Lee-Warner, Lachlan Swinton, Charlie Gamble, Hugh Sinclair, Jake Gordon (c), Tane Edmed, Dylan Pietsch, Lalakai Foketi, Joey Walton, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Max Jorgensen

RESERVES: Theo Fourie, Hayden Thompson-Stringer, Tom Ross, Miles Amatosero, Sione Misiloi, Teddy Wilson, Will Harrison, Izaia Perese

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