Fensom ends injury exile with Blackhawks
There was cheering and clapping on the North Queensland Cowboys training field this week when Shaun Fensom got the green light to return to action from a broken leg.
The 29-year-old forward will end 203 days on the sidelines when he lines up for the Townsville Blackhawks against the Norths Devils on Sunday in the Intrust Super Cup.
In the last thing he wanted, Fensom provided an iconic moment in the 2017 Telstra Premiership grand final when he gave the thumbs up as he was leaving the field on a medicab after breaking his fibula and tibia in the opening moments of the match.
He later texted his teammates to apologise for not being able to finish the game. That further endeared him to them.
Cowboys physiotherapist Steve Sartori said Fensom's recovery had been a source of inspiration to his fellow players.
''They were all yahooing and cheering when Shaun first came out on the field with the main group about a month ago and started doing some of the skill components of training,'' Sartori told NRL.com.
''Then when Shaun finalised his last training session on Wednesday they were cheering and clapping him, and that is a massive help when you have colleagues to support you through those long and lonely places.''
Sartori was by Fensom's side when he was being tended to on the field in the grand final and saw the rugged forward writhing in pain.
''You could see the tibia bone starting to push against the skin but not quite cut through it," Sartori said.
''He had to have surgery to put the bones back in place and a big nail go through his tibia to hold it in place, and screws through the bone to stop it from moving.
''Shaun's worked really hard over the last seven months to get into the position to play again and it is not a given that happens. It was a nasty injury and sometimes people take it for granted guys will come back and play again, but some don't. He's done well.''
The screws were removed eight weeks after the injury and the Cowboys had Fensom up and running a month later on the club's anti-gravity treadmill.
''That helped him move more comfortably to begin with and he's been doing contact work for about a month,'' Sartori said.
''Before that he was doing controlled work inside - grappling, holding and wrestling with the other injured guys.''
Fensom spoke to NRL.com in the pre-season and said he'd targeted round one as a return as a motivational tool. That return date was revised closer to March.
''At that point we set round six or round seven for him and a more realistic goal,'' Sartori said.
''He was close last week but wanted to do a bit more contact work, which he did. We're happy with him and he's playing this week.''
Sartori said the club knew Fensom was a strong character with an outstanding work ethic towards training. Those qualities have come to the fore in his rehabilitation.
''The positive aspect to Shaun is his mental resilience to overcome an injury like that and put himself in a position to play and compete again,'' Sartori said.
''His next goal is to accumulate some game minutes and get himself back in the frame for the NRL.''
The Cowboys have outlined to the Blackhawks what the club would like Fensom to do in his first game back. He will come off the bench and play 25 to 30 minutes before building on that each week.
Cowboys coach Paul Green said he was delighted Fensom was set to make his return.
''It's no fun for anyone when you've had an injury as serious as he did,'' Green said.
''He's been in that training rehab group for quite a while so it's a huge boost for him personally to get back on the paddock and play again.''
Cowboys back-rower Ethan Lowe said Fensom would put pressure on the current forwards to fire as he worked his way back into NRL contention.
''He played really well for us last year coming off the bench and starting a few times,'' Lowe said.
''He's obviously got a few things to work through and get back to that match fitness and try to work back into the form he was in last year.''