Eel Edwards’ NRL year from hell

Most players wax lyrical about the dark places they go to when they’re out injured for extended periods, and Parramatta forward Kenny Edwards is no different.

Only he might’ve gone as far as hell.

Edwards had only just undergone season-ending knee surgery after rupturing his ACL in the Auckland Nines last year when he became the central figure in an investigation into an out-of-competition drug test swap with teammate Kaysa Pritchard.

If it was ASADA, he would’ve been suspended for two years – all for doing what he thought was simply a favour.

“Even though what I did was silly, I did it for a mate,” Edwards tells AAP.

That favour saw him pummelled with a nine-month ban, a punishment that probably would’ve been water off a duck’s back for someone who was going to spend just about all of it learning how to run again anyway.

Except no one was helping him do it.

While the Eels worked with the NRL’s integrity unit on a proper sanction, Edwards was banished from club headquarters, told not to step within a bee’s appendage of Eels property for almost three months.

That was when his world, like most injured players, went cold.

“I thought that was it for me,” he recalls.

“I didn’t know what the NRL was thinking, or the club. I wasn’t even allowed to go to training with the boys until April.

“I couldn’t see the boys, I couldn’t even get medical attention.

“Every now and then I had to go and get physio done myself because I wasn’t allowed back at the training facilities.

“I was in a bad way.”

It was then that Edwards considered leaving the game and escaping home to New Zealand, as he did when he previously given the flick by St George Illawarra in 2009.

He was also axed by Manly the year before that.

“Those thoughts were running through my mind, because I’ve had no experience with any other work beforehand,” he says.

By the time he was allowed to return to the club in May, his knee could barely straighten.

“Because I hadn’t got the medical attention I needed, by the time I got back it was in the wrong shape,” he says, adding that he had also come back 10 kilograms overweight.

“The stuff I had to do to get it back straight again was torture. The physio had to strap my knee to the bed, it was an electronic gizmo, and every time the bed went up, my knee went with it.”

When the Eels travel to North Queensland on Saturday, the 26-year-old will run out for his eighth straight game to start the season, an accomplishment he says couldn’t have been done without the backing of coach Brad Arthur.

Arthur is considered among the game’s most astute man-managers – he was instrumental in bringing stars Anthony Watmough and Kieran Foran west of the northern beaches, and has expertly shielded his team from the salary cap saga over the opening two months that threatens to ruin their 2016 campaign.

And he’s also been a rock for Edwards’ at-time fledgling career.

“I wouldn’t be the player I am, I wouldn’t have the confidence I do now in my ability, if he wasn’t my coach,” Edwards says.

“The confidence and trust he puts in you as a player, to play what you see and back yourself, is massive for me. I’m signed for one more year but all I want to do is repay him.”

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