After a wretched run of injury Melbourne Storm winger Matt Duffie could have been forgiven for holding his breath after going airborne early in their win against the Dragons on Saturday night.
The 24-year-old came down with the ball and, more importantly for him, came up uninjured before seeing out the 22-4 win at Napier’s McLean Park on New Zealand’s east coast.
The significance of the early test on his return to NRL action after almost three years out with a succession of serious shoulder and knee injuries was not lost on coach Craig Bellamy.
“That was nearly the best thing that happened all night.
“As soon as they did (kick to him) and he caught it you could just see his confidence go sky-high and his teammates, their confidence in him went sky-high.
“Everything went great after that,” he said.
Duffie, who did not want to speak to media after the match, had not played at NRL level with eight of the side to take to field in Napier, missing 66 games since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee early in the 2013 season.
That came a year after undergoing a shoulder reconstruction and he reinjured the same knee prior to the start of last season forcing him to miss the entire season.
“His teammates and myself, we haven’t seen all that he’s gone through,” Bellamy said.
“We all really feel for him and what he’s been through. He’s shown a lot of perseverance and a lot of resilience.
“We were rapt for him to play like he did but we were rapt for him to get through unscathed and now hopefully he can have an uninterrupted run with injury because he deserves it.”
Bellamy allayed concerns about the fitness of the playmaker Cooper Cronk who was withdrawn with 15 minutes remaining and the Storm up 22-0 saying he had taken a cork to his thigh and his troublesome right knee was fine.
“It was just the sensible thing to get him off as soon as the score was what it was.”