DRAGONS young-gun Drew Hutchison is the first to admit that he “carried on a little bit.”
But if anyone ever had cause, it was the 22-year-old Albion Park product. The 2017 season was supposed to be his.
He finished the 2016 season by spearheading the Illawarra Cutters to an ISP double-crown and, following the departure of Benji Marshall, had been endorsed as the Dragons No. 7 for 2017.
Coach Paul McGregor was telling anyone who’d listen that the former Junior Kangaroo had “flicked the switch” and was training the house down.
It was all going to plan. And then it wasn’t.
In the space of weeks, medical staff confirmed a training injury was an ACL tear that required surgery and the club confirmed Ben Hunt will arrive in Wollongong in 2018.
It was a tough pill for anyone to swallow, with Hutchison making no secret of what his ambitions were.
“Coming into preseason the club hadn’t signed Ben Hunt yet so in my mind I was telling myself I could be the long-term halfback at this club for the next five or six years,” Hutchison said.
“It was a pretty good opportunity to do that and that’s the way I attacked it but it just wasn’t to be.”
It’s been a mental battle but Hutchison, who will return to action with Illawarra this weekend, is confident he’s a more mature individual than the one who was left kicking stones earlier this year.
“To be honest I carried on when it happened. I thought my world was about to end but, at the end of the day, it’s just an injury,” he said.
“This is your career, it’s not your life. It’s been a hard one to take but I suppose you grow as a person. It’s about how you come back from it and that’s been one of the biggest motivators for me.
“I won’t lie, there were days when I was in doing rehab and just thought ‘’stuff this, I just want to go home’, but it’s what being a professional is about.”
Staff haven’t been able to fault Hutchison’s application in the rehab room, as he defied predictions that reconstructive surgery would end his 2017 campaign.
“You always read stuff saying it’s a season-ending injury but, straight from day dot, I spoke to the physios and performance staff and they said ‘I reckon you can get back this year’,” he said.
“I always had the goal of playing again this year, and to achieve that will be good, but I don’t want to make it all about myself.
“We’ve still got a job to do as a Steelers team and consolidating a top eight spot is my primary focus.”
Off-contract this season, Hutchison’s return is a timely one as he looks to secure his future, whether it’s with the Dragons or elsewhere.
“I always said once I did the injury that I’d sort it out when I’m back playing so that’s something to focus on,” Hutchison said.
“As soon as I injured my knee I thought ‘oh no, I’m never going to get an opportunity again’, but your performances take care of that.
“I haven’t been playing footy to secure a contract here or anywhere else but hopefully now I’m back playing it’ll be clear in my mind where I want to go next.
“It’s a knee injury, it’s not like I’ve forgotten how to play footy. I’d love to play in the NRL again, whether that’s now, two years, three years but it’s always up to you to sort that out.
“Whether it’s here or somewhere else, you’re never just going to walk into an NRL team. It’s going to be up to me to train hard and get back playing good footy.”