AFTER recovering from a life-threatening blood clot, revitalised Leeds Rhinos’ Ben Jones-Bishop believes his game could rise to new heights on his long-awaited return to action.
It is not like the two-time Grand Final winner was actually struggling before the discovery of a pulmonary embolism in his lung just before Christmas.
He was already one of the most highly-rated young talents in Super League and had crowned a fine 23-try campaign with a second successive Grand Final triumph and a couple of appearances for England Knights.
But during pre-season training the usually sprightly Yorkshireman did not quite feel right and was wondering why his performance was not as high as expected.
It was the club’s conditioners who spotted the underlying problem and, once Jones-Bishop was diagnosed and started on a course of treatment, the long road to recovery was underway.
Six – at times arduous – months on and that journey will be complete when he finally returns for the reigning champions at Headingley against Widnes Vikings in Monday night’s televised fixture.
Talking to the Yorkshire Post, Jones-Bishop admitted: “It has been tough.
“There’s no denying that. I’ve been working hard and the conditioners have done brilliantly getting me in the right condition.
“Now I am just excited about getting back out there and I do feel great.
“Even before it (blood clot) was determined I was fine day-to-day.
“It was just the real tough fitness sessions when I didn’t feel right.
“People who don’t know about the condition will have wondered what’s been wrong with me all this time as you can’t really tell; it’s not like I have a broken leg or anything. But in many ways it was good it wasn’t a fractured limb as it has enabled me just to crack on with all the running and weights I’ve done and that’s enabled me to get to my physical peak.
“I’d not been working at 100 per cent. To now have that fixed and not be wondering ‘What’s going on?’ is a great feeling.
“I have been smashing some of my personal bests in training which shows that something was holding me back before.
“From my understanding, it would have been the equivalent of a heart attack for my lungs, so another couple of tough sessions back then could have been disastrous for me.
“But that’s not the case now and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do and pushing on for the rest of the year.”
The 24-year-old’s return – he has not played for Leeds since last October’s Old Trafford glory – is certainly timely given the West Yorkshire club’s chronic injury problems.
Brian McDermott’s side have seven first-team squad members currently sidelined while another seven have been on international duty all week ahead of last night’s England v Exiles game.
It has made for an unusual return to full training for Jones-Bishop.
“It has been different,” said the Leeds-born Academy product.
“We’ve been in on an evening with the Under-19s as there’s such a big chunk of the squad missing.
“For me, though, it’s just been straight-forward and getting some of the contact work, like wrestling and tackling, completed that I hadn’t been able to before because of the medication I was on.
“It’s been good to get doing that again. For three or four months I’ve just been running but it’s definitely much harder to run after you’ve done so much contact.
“This last week has got me ready to go again against Widnes and I do feel fresh.”
Leeds, of course, have just emerged from a downturn in form, victory over Castleford Tigers last Friday their first success in five outings.
They have slipped to fifth but with two games in hand over their rivals – the Widnes game is rearranged from February when Leeds were in World Club Challenge action – they remain confident of finishing strongly.
Jones-Bishop, meanwhile, has not ruled out a late push for the World Cup at the end of the year.
He was an unused member of Steve McNamara’s 2011 Four Nations squad but concedes his first aim is repaying his club colleagues.
“The boys have been carrying me for two-thirds of the season,” he said.
“Now I just want to get back and help them out in return.
“For me, it’s just a case of focusing on the immediate future, getting back on Monday, getting up to speed and getting my performance right week to week.
“I want to help the side climb the table, advance through the play-offs and on to Old Trafford again. If your club form is right, hopefully the rest will follow.”
On the blood clot which sidelined him, Jones-Bishop added: “I was cleared at Easter of any health issues but we saw a different specialist who recommended 12 more weeks on the medication. That was the worst point for me. Initially we thought I could be back playing after three months and was preparing to face Warrington just after Easter.
“But when the specialist said it was another 12 weeks before I could play it was shattering; to go from being ready to get back out there and then told ‘no, you have to sit out another three months’ was tough to take.
“But Brian McDermott and (conditioner) Jason Davidson were great with me.”