IT WILL take more than a gruesome finger injury to prevent Leeds Rhinos star Carl Ablett playing in tonight’s game at champions St Helens. Or any fixture, for that matter.
The England second-row is already well-known for his toughness and durability and is consistently one of Super League’s most reliable performers.
You do not earn five Grand Final winners’ rings without such character traits.
But when one of Ablett’s fingers split “like a banana”, according to Leeds coach Brian McDermott, leaving the bone protruding during Good Friday’s win at Castleford, you might have expected him to take an enforced rest.
Admittedly, he did come off at Wheldon Road but was back in the side as they defeated Wakefield Trinity Wildcats on Easter Monday, filled in at centre as Leeds won at Salford on Sunday and, so, is well-versed at playing with the injury ahead of tonight’s trip to Merseyside.
“People have played with a lot worse – who needs a finger anyway?” said the 29-year-old.
“It is just one finger, you can strap it to the other one and get on with it. There’s plenty of players, especially at this time of year just after Easter, who run out carrying knocks.
“It is just part of the game. You have to be tough and be prepared to play through pain. It’s whatever you have to do for the team.
“I don’t like missing games, so I’m not going to miss one through a cut. I’ll just bandage it up.”
Ablett, who has scored 60 tries in 233 games for his hometown club since debuting in 2004, has had running repairs ever since enduring the graphic injury.
“It was a proper open wound – I could see the bone,” he recalled.
“It was one of those when I knew straight away I had to go off and get it fixed up.
“I had stitches in after the game and we did our best to bandage it up on Easter Monday and then at Salford as well.
“It’ll be the same Friday; just strap it up the best you can and hope for the best.
“It split up a bit again on Sunday, so I had three stitches out and three more put in.
“It’s just in one of those places where it’s constantly flexing or you’re constantly moving it, so it’s hard for it to bind together.
“It might be like that for a while, so it’s just a case of bandaging it up and going out there and getting on with the job.”
With England colleague Kallum Watkins returning from illness to play centre, it means Ablett will revert to the pack as the early-season leaders take on the team that lifted last year’s crown.
If Leeds prosper again and record a sixth successive win, they will move six points clear of second-placed St Helens and will surely be favourites to go on and take the League Leaders’ Shield.
They have not won that trophy since 2009 nor have they been at Old Trafford since beating Warrington in the 2012 Grand Final.
But a defeat will see Saints –who returned to winning ways with Sunday’s victory at Huddersfield after a barren Easter – close to within just two points.
Ablett conceded: “It is a big game. They started the season off well, but people haven’t been talking about them as much as they’ve had a couple of defeats.
“We will be expecting a tough match. They had a good win at the weekend against Huddersfield and whenever we play them they are great games.
“It will be interesting, but we will go into it with three victories over Easter, so confidence will be high and we have to take that into the game.
“But we’re not sitting with our chests out thinking we’re all right here. Last week we were scratchy with the ball a bit and the way we were finishing our sets wasn’t good enough in the second half.
“It’s not like we are sitting at the top, patting each other on the back and saying ‘aren’t we playing well’.
“There’s still plenty to work on and we’ll probably have to play better than we did last week.
“Saints are starting to get a few players back and hopefully they’ll be as strong as they can be.
“That’s what you want; the best players on the field to showcase our great game.”
Castleford winger Justin Carney will be out for up to eight weeks after requiring surgery on his dislocated elbow. There is no fracture as first feared.