FORMER New Zealand centre Jake Webster admits he thought about quitting rugby league during his 12 months out with a problematic knee injury.
Thankfully, the Castleford Tigers star was persuaded otherwise and he is now looking to recapture his best form.
Webster, 30, had made just seven appearances for the West Yorkshire club since joining from Hull KR on a three-year deal when he injured his knee in March last season.
He finally returned to action at Salford Red Devils this March only to strain his groin and miss yet more action.
But Webster has now started to string some games together for the Super League high-fliers and, ahead of tomorrow’s visit of Widnes Vikings, admits those dark days are behind him.
“It was one injury after another,” he said, having endured plenty of bad luck at Hull KR, too.
“I had a rough few years but last year was probably my worst when I did my knee and had complication after complication, three or four surgeries, and I was close to hanging my boots up many a time.
“But the boys around here and the staff and medical people kept my spirits high so I could do it.
“I just put my head down and did what I had to do. Now it’s starting to pay off.
“It’s one of those things. I’ve put it behind me now and fingers crossed nothing else bad happens.”
Webster concedes he does have a feeling of wanting to repay the club for backing him during that torturous spell on the sidelines.
“I said that to (Castleford chief executive) Steve Gill when we sat down and had a meeting about the last surgery,” he explained.
“The club stood by me and so I wanted to make sure I do everything I can to repay them and be out on the field for as long as I can and be the best I can. Hopefully I can do that over the next year or two.”
The signs are already promising with Webster, a powerful runner and renowned for his defensive toughness, quickly demonstrating there has been no lingering effects from those operations.
When it is suggested it must help coming back from injury into a side playing so well – Daryl Powell’s Castleford are fourth with nine wins so far – he replied: “It does and it doesn’t.
“It’s hard to get a spot especially the way Michael Channing’s been playing so well.
“I had to find new role really in the back-row but Powelly put me back out in the centres the last couple of games and it’s not as stressful I suppose. There’s not as much pressure on you.
“It’s definitely a relief to be playing again. I’ve had a few games back-to-back now which is good and I got another 80 last weekend – my second this year – which is only going to build confidence. I’m looking forward to building it further.”
He accepts a move to second-row at Castleford – who bring Luke Dorn back for Channing tomorrow – could extend his career.
“Yeah, it’s looking that way,” said Webster, who was born in Melbourne but won eight caps for the Kiwis between 2005 and 2007.
“I’m not as fast as I used to be. Maybe in the future – the next year or two – or if Powelly sees me going that way I don’t have any qualms at all. I still love the centres and if I can just keep working on the things I know I have to I’ll hopefully make it my own position again.
“But if I’m to go to second-row I’d probably have to be more ball-playing.
“I’d like to model my game a bit on Weller (Haurakai). He does a great job in that position for us and if I could learn a few things off him it’ll go a long way to put me in that position.”
It will soon be a decade since a youthful Webster featured as New Zealand won the 2005 Tri-Nations final at Elland Road in Leeds, a shock 24-0 win breaking Australia’s remarkable 27-year undefeated tournament record.
“It was a bit of a blur back then,” he recalled. “It all happened so quickly. I came in off the back of a really bad injury and just got thrown straight into it. It just went in a blink of an eye and it was all over.
“But they were probably the best footy days of my life and something I’ll never forget.
“I was on the wing that night. I’m working my way in slowly. I’ll be prop by the end of my career.”