Roache close to tears on return

Nathaniel Roache made his return to first grade for the Warriors against the Bulldogs on Saturday...
Nathaniel Roache made his return to first grade for the Warriors against the Bulldogs on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images
Nathaniel Roache admits he was close to tears as he ran out for the Warriors last Saturday.

It was an emotional occasion, particularly given the tragic events the day before in Christchurch, which had affected the whole team.

But for Roache, the match against the Bulldogs was also the beginning of another NRL chapter, after a horrible run of injuries.

It had been 573 days since the Richmond Rovers junior had appeared in first grade, and a moment he had visualised during the long, lonely rehabiliation sessions as first a ruptured achilles tendon then a lumbar disc injury took him out of the sport.

"It was a feeling that was long awaited," said Roache of his NRL return. "I was telling my family I can't wait to walk out, see the crowd and let all the emotion out. It was exactly what I expected. I was out there, I was almost going to cry to myself to be honest. I had a little moment where I smiled to myself — 'We're back' ".

Roache's last NRL appearance had been in round 20 of the 2017 season, in a 36-16 loss to the Raiders at Mt Smart.

A few days later Roache snapped his achilles in a training session. A long comeback followed, and an operation, but he was back on track before a prolapsed disc suffered last January ended his 2018 prospects.

"I've been on the sidelines for almost two years, so to be back out there playing was a pretty awesome feeling," said Roache. "I wasn't actually expecting to play first grade in my first few games. I was hoping to get a few minutes in [NSW] Cup and maybe work my way back in. But I am thankful that they trusted me to get the job done."

Roache also had to face up to some pretty hefty physological demons last week.

"When you have been out of it for so long all the feelings come back, all the pre-game feelings," said Roache. "[But I] got through those trial games injury free so I was a bit more prepared for this game. I was nervous like anyone else but once kickoff went it was like I was back two years ago playing again.

"I'm happy I got through it. Even in the trial games I was wondering how the body would be against some of the big fellas in the middle and how I would handle the physicality. The body pulled up alright, I'm happy I am injury free and got out of it in one piece."

Roache exceeded expectations. He got through 55 minutes, including the whole first half, made 35 tackles without a miss and burst 40m to score a try after backing up a David Fusitu'a break.

"I felt really slow to be honest," joked Roache. "A few of the boys said 'Where has the speed gone?' I was on my haunches there and pretty tired but was lucky enough to get over the line."

As it develops, Roaches' battle with Issac Luke will be one of the most interesting sidelines of the Warriors season.

There is tremendous mutual respect, but both will covet the No9 jersey. Roache is seen as the long term hooking option, but Luke will aim to delay his ascension and win a new contract.

Roache's next objective is to pilot the Warriors past a confident Tigers side, and try to shut down Robbie Farah, who notches up his 298th NRl match on Sunday.

"He is a very crafty player, a lot of experience behind him," said Roache. "He will send some of those big boys at me, so hopefully I have packed the overalls and have a good day."

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