HULL KR winger Ben Crooks admits he feared the worst when waiting to discover that he had played on with a broken back.
The former Castleford Tigers player is out of action until mid-April after suffering two fractured vertebrae in Sunday’s 22-12 win over London Broncos.
Crooks was taken to hospital in an ambulance on a spinal board and with his neck in a brace after the end of the game at KCOM Craven Park – having initially carried on following a painful first-half collision.
In an exclusive interview with The Yorkshire Post, he said: “When I got there I had an x-ray and the doctor said I had a chipped piece of bone.
“But they then sent me for a CT scan to get a better picture of it.
“As soon as he said that – that I needed more scans and tests – it did set my heart racing a little .
It’s frustrating for me, but it’s part of the game. It is only six weeks and then, hopefully, I can jump back into the team if needed.Hull KR winger, Ben Crooks
“You start wondering if it will heal on its own, will I need surgery to have something corrected, is it career-threatening or even life-threatening?
“When it comes to your spine or your neck you do start to think the worst; things flash through your head pretty quickly.
“But luckily it’s not a bad one. It will keep me out for at least six weeks and I’ll be in a bit of pain, but it’s nothing too threatening.”
Crooks, 25, explained how an innocuous challenge escalated into something potentially far more serious.
“I’d made a half-break and got ankle-tapped when I felt someone’s knees in my back,” he said.
“My initial thought was I’d bust my kidney, but I told the physio I’d try run it off; playing on the wing it’s hard to shuffle people around.
“I was in a fair bit of pain, but got to half-time and told them to just strap it and pad it and I’d see how I’d get on.
“I asked for a bit of treatment as well as where the initial pain was it was shooting down my back and onto my backside.
“I asked for a bit of relief in my glute and hammy and he worked on that for another five minutes in the changing room before we went back out.
“But as soon as I stood up I almost pulled the telly off the wall.
“It felt like someone was stabbing me in the back.
“Our doc asked me if I had any numbness in my leg at all and when I told her the symptoms she said she couldn’t send me to hospital in a car and we’d have to send for an ambulance.
“If it was something tugging on my spinal cord or a nerve down there and you go in the car it only takes one speed bump or a pothole.
“It was at that point that I sort of panicked. You do think, ‘this could be a bit serious’.”
Crooks, who won Super League’s Young Player of the Year in 2013 when playing for Hull FC, added: “When it happened I thought it would eventually loosen up.
“I was walking around – well, shuffling – at half-time and I didn’t think it was anything to do with my spine.
“If it was I thought I wouldn’t have been able to walk let alone play the last 15, 20 minutes of the first half.
“But when she said I was going to have to go on the spinal cord in an ambulance with a neck brace on I did wonder.”
Crooks, who was released from hospital late on Sunday night, revealed how some of his own team-mates did not even realise what had happened.
“Craig Hall messaged me later in the night asking how I was,” said the Yorkshireman, who joined Rovers from cash-strapped Leigh Centurions with his fellow winger last July.
“He’d said he’d been stood with the ball waiting to kick the second half off. The ref asked if he was ready and Hally said, ‘no, we’re just waiting for Crooksie. He’s just gone for a pee’.
“He said he looked a right idiot stood looking around for me for ages with me never coming.”
Rovers pushed on to overcome a 6-4 interval deficit to gain their second win from three Super League games so far.
Pontefract-born Crooks, who is a centre by trade, has played his part in their promising start, proving a strong and reliable presence on the right flank.
“I targeted this year as a big year for me personally,” said the player, looking for some stability having had four clubs in just five seasons since initially leaving Hull for Parramatta Eels in 2014.
“But also I think we can have a big year with what we can achieve with the club, with the team we’ve got here. Everyone has closed-door meetings before the season starts and we really wanted to hammer home that we want to be known as a top side.
“The tags that come with that are you have to be ruthless and consistent with everything you do. We got the win against Hull FC in the first game and that was probably the easiest part.
“The hardest is backing it up. We didn’t quite do that at Warrington, but the scoreline didn’t truly reflect the game.
“For all we didn’t do ourselves justice in the first half against London, we did pick up and ground out a good win in the second. We’ve another big one versus Salford at home on Saturday.
“It’s frustrating for me, but it’s part of the game. It is only six weeks and then, hopefully, I can jump back into the team if needed.”
Ryan Shaw is set to come in as his replacement.
Meanwhile, London’s James Cunningham was handed a Grade A charge by the Match Review Panel for tripping KR’s James Greenwood, but is not banned.