Sudbury club captain Alex Pears came through his first competitive match in 20 months unscathed — but he almost did not make it back on to the pitch.
The 31-year-old, now the eldest statesman in the squad by five years, suffered a broken leg and dislocated ankle while playing at Whittome Field in the last game before Christmas back in December 2011.
Coupled with a shoulder injury earlier that season which needed reconstructive surgery, the dark days of his long spell on the sidelines led him to almost decide to hang his boots up for good.
But the challenge of helping a young front row develop led him to quash those thoughts, with an injury scare on the previously dislocated ankle just two days before Saturday not stopping him playing 80 minutes in the 34-12 victory over Wymondham.
“I was debating whether to come back with injuries and mentally being ready for it,” he said.
“It was good to be back out with the lads again though playing the game I love playing, you do miss it a lot standing on the sidelines.
“I said I would do pre-season and see how my body felt and it went ok and here I am back again.”
He added: “I have played front row all my life so I do bring a bit experience to the squad, but I think the likes of fridge, Pete Dedross, did a terrific job.
“We have quite a few props coming through now, Danny Street is a big lad and came on and is looking good so we are bringing some youngsters through in the front row so hopefully I won’t need to do it in a few years time.”
Pears does not believe youth will hold Sudbury back as they look to improve on last season’s third-bottom finish, which could have seen them relegated had their not been a high number of teams filtering down the pyramid.
“To be fair, a lot of them have been playing quite a while now; Tom Summers, Nick Robinson, Joe (Birmingham), a lot of players are young but have been playing from a young age, so they have mature heads on them.”
And though survival is the main aim, Pears to think they can stay well clear of the bottom three this time.
“Obviously you never want to go down but I think mid-table we would be happy with, if we can compete in scrums and get the ball around like we did Saturday,” he said.