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NRL 2022: Welch confident of Round 1 return

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Storm forward Christian Welch says he’s tracking well for a Round 1 return as the luckless veteran continues to recover from his third season-ending injury which took its toll on him mentally.

Welch headed into the 2022 season riding high as one of the club’s new co-captains with an eye on the World Cup at the end of the year, but that all ended inside the opening 80 minutes when he ruptured his Achilles against the Wests Tigers.

It was a devastating setback for a player who suffered ACL tears in 2017 and 2019, with the first one costing him a premiership when Melbourne trounced the Cowboys in the decider.

While he hasn’t returned to full-contact sessions, Welch is confident he’ll be good to go for the Round 1 clash against Parramatta when the clubs kick off the 2023 season.

“I’m slowly ticking off the different types of training sessions we have. (I’m doing) more controlled sessions, and then hopefully by January I’ll be (doing full sessions),” he said.

There had been talk of him returning late in the season if the Storm made a deep finals run, but Welch and the club shut that down, knowing an early comeback would increase the risk of reinjuring his knees.

It was yet another setback for one of the most likeable players in the game, who revealed his recovery this time around was much tougher than anything he’d experienced.

What made it worse was that the proud Queenslander didn’t have much family to rely on as he hobbled around in a moonboot for eight weeks, which made simple tasks like driving impossible.

“I found it really difficult – probably more difficult than my ACL recoveries – and they probably have a longer timeline associated with them. Mentally, it’s been a real struggle,” he said.

“It’s the highs and lows of professional sport.

“One of my proudest moments was being named co-captain and leading the boys out for that game.

“It’s pretty grim because I would have liked to have had a big year and played well for the Storm and then put myself forward for Queensland and representative teams, but that all got taken off the table.

“It was pretty tough, but I got through it and had a lot of support.

“My family were awesome. I don’t really have anyone down in Melbourne because I’m from Queensland and I don’t have a partner, so my sister came down for the first two weeks and looked after me.

“There are some pretty down times, but I’ve had a lot of really good times. I love coming into training and mixing with the guys. We’re lucky that we’re at a really successful club so I’ve won a lot of footy and played some rep games.

“Those highs are pretty amazing, so I know you go through some down times, but we’re in a privileged job where we get paid well to do what we do and get to come in with your friends.”

The 28-year-old says he’s now “one of the old dogs” given the Storm lost so many experienced forwards in the off-season, but he may have some new tricks up his sleeve with some rare good news on the injury front.

“They actually think that it comes back stronger after surgery because it fattens your Achilles,” he said.

“It’s pretty interesting when you go the surgeon – they’re obviously very good at cutting things up – but I think they’re a bit odd sometimes.

“The guy was grabbing my Achilles going ‘this is lovely. This is nice and fat. How good is this!’

“It was bizarre, but they’re happy with it, so provided I do a really good rehab and get my strength up, I think I should be right.”

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