Bulldogs five-eighth Kieran Foran will make his return from syndesmosis surgery three weeks ahead of schedule after round-the-clock rehab work at home – and it couldn't come soon enough for the desperate Dogs.
Foran played arguably the best game of his post-Manly career in his team's morale-boosting win over Wests Tigers in round three but tore his syndesmosis in the act of scoring a 29th-minute try.
He hobbled on with the injury for another 50 minutes to guide his team to a 22-8 win before going under the knife two days later. He was then given a likely return date of round 12-14.
Foran was desperate to get back on the field as soon as possible to help a young and rebuilding club that desperately needed his experience, especially after having produced a blinder in round three, which dulled the pain of injuries and off-field worries that had all but ruined his 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons with the Eels, Warriors and Bulldogs respectively.
"They roughly say it's between eight and 10 weeks with these surgeries and I'll be playing at about five-and-a-half from the surgery," Foran said at a Bulldogs training session at Brisbane's Red Hill base on Friday.
"When I got the surgery I didn't want to accept I'd be on the sideline for three months so I just said to the medical guys, 'Can we really rip in and try and push it as hard as we can?'
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"They were happy to go ahead with that so we just crunched into it. I guess I got back running a lot sooner than most blokes do. I'm enjoying my footy so I want to get back out there."
While injuries can never come at a good time, Foran admitted the timing of his was particularly unwelcome.
"It was frustrating. I've been struggling for form the last couple of seasons and felt like I was finally getting back to sort of where I would have liked to have been and it's unfortunate but these things happen. I'll just get on with it and hopefully I can recapture that form pretty quickly," he said.
Foran's teammate Dylan Napa returned from his own syndesmosis injury in round eight, with the pair having spent plenty of time together in rehab over the previous month.
Foran's tear required tightrope surgery, where surgical line pulls the two lower leg bones back together to strengthen the ankle where it is bonded by the syndesmosis ligaments. Napa's was less serious and did not require surgery, but he was in awe of his clubmate's dedication to get back on the field.
"It's around the clock these things, it's not just when you get to training and do physio," Napa said.
"He was telling me how his wife would get the ice ready, help him flush it and compress and he'd do that on repeat all night every night. These things aren't flukes, it's all hard work and I'm very happy for him to get back. We need him, to tell you the truth."
Foran said he had done plenty of off-foot cardio during his rehab and had been back running for two weeks, and was close to returning even earlier in round eight.
"It's been feeling pretty good the last week so decided to make the trip up here and play," he said.
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"I was close [last week] but I just thought it wasn't quite ready and an extra seven days would be good, feeling pretty confident heading into [Saturday's] game."
Foran re-enters the team with a new halves partner in Jack Cogger, who has been preferred to Lachlan Lewis.
He didn't anticipate his role changing with a new partner and is set to continue in the running five-eighth role he had so much success with alongside Daly Cherry-Evans at Manly.
"I think that's what best suits this team. Last year I was a bit more of an organiser but this year it's trying to play to our strengths throughout the team and what's best suited. I'm enjoying the role I'm currently in at the moment," he said.
"They're pretty similar players, they like to control the game, they're both pretty good organisers."