Cowboys centre Justin O’Neill has recovered from a life- threatening ruptured spleen injury and has his sights on reviving his partnership with wingman Kyle Feldt.
Feldt and O’Neill formed the club's 2015 premiership-winning combination on the right side and a reunion of the duo will have symmetry in more ways than one.
After rupturing his spleen in the round 11 clash with the Raiders this year, O’Neill spent four days in intensive care in a Canberra hospital after emergency surgery - which included three blood transfusions - saved his life.
The 28-year-old former international had returned to his team hotel and gone to bed after the Raiders clash unaware of the dire situation he was in. It was his roommate, Feldt, who noticed his precarious condition and the ambulance was soon called.
"I fractured a rib and the rib lacerated the spleen during the game, but it was a weird one and scary one because I didn’t have any symptoms until overnight," O’Neill said.
"I wasn’t in any pain or had any symptoms as such but then I started spewing and falling into unconsciousness which was alarming.”
O’Neill spent several weeks after surgery in Canberra before returning home to Townsville and beginning a rehab process that will soon have him in full contact again.
“At the time of the injury it was an eye opener for me and put a lot of things in perspective. I was sick and I just needed to get better no matter how long it took and if that meant I had to miss some footy then so be it,” he said.
“Then it got back to the stage where I could get back into training but what I could do around training was pretty limited. It was hard because in my mind my body was OK but internally I was still recovering, and that was showing up in my heart rate. I had to cap what I was doing.
“Now it is finally good to be back doing skills and some controlled contact. I’ve just got to get cleared for contact and I’ll be ready to go again in the next month. It is all about ticking off all the boxes and taking the road to recovery the right way and not rushing anything.”
O’Neill scored eight tries in eight games in 2019 and had shown improved form alongside winger Feldt when injury struck him down. He has also played on the wing but O’Neill believes he plays his best football in the centres.
"The disappointing thing was that the injury came at a bad time because I was starting to enjoy footy and run into some form that I hadn’t seen in a while," he said.
"I am really hoping I can get back to that form in the centres and get the duo with Feldty going again."
There will be competition for centre positions with new inclusion Esan Marsters, Tom Opacic and Ben Hampton all in the frame. O’Neill said the Cowboys back line would also have much more strike with the signing of Valentine Holmes.
“We have young guys coming through who are showing some form, and our new buys Esan Marsters and Val are two great new inclusions,” O’Neill said.
"Val brings heaps of excitement at fullback and he is a specialist winger as well. He scores exciting tries and that is what we need from wingers and fullbacks, and Esan is very strong in the centres."