Watson’s 558-day road to Origin debut

New South Wales Blues State of Origin Training Session
Connor Watson has hit the ground running at Blues camp just a year after he was in a wheelchair and unsure if he’d ever play again. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

He’s the Swiss Army knife who is ready to do anything for the Blues next week, but there was a time a year ago when many people wondered if Connor Watson would be able to even get back to a footy field after his dazzling array of tools were wiped out by a shocking knee injury that threatened to end his career.

A ruptured patella tendon in his left knee suffered in the pre-season kept him out of the NRL for a staggering 558 days, but after months of rehab and proving people wrong, the Roosters star got to make some phone calls to the only people who really matter after he found out on Sunday that he’d be making his Origin debut.

“When I got the call, I spoke to mum and different people, and they were like ‘Imagine you last year telling yourself that next year you’d be playing State of Origin’. It’s pretty wild,” he said.

“I’m definitely grateful for the whole journey – the ups and the downs – even through all those tough times that you have. I’m fortunate enough that I have great friends and family around me.

“In the scheme of things, yes I missed a year of footy, but there are lots of worse things going on in the world.”

Watson has plenty of people to thank for helping him get through the injury, but he was quick to mention his partner Kiana and his mum whom he lived with at her place in Terrigal because his Sydney home wouldn’t cut it.

NRL Rd 6 -  Knights v Roosters
Connor Watson has been outstanding for the Roosters after enduring more than a year of pain. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

“Those two were so rock solid for me,” he said.

“I had to go back to mum’s (place) because I’ve got stairs to get up at my apartment. I had to keep my leg straight because I was in one of those wheelchairs with a leg extension thing for a long time.

“I went back to mum’s and I think I drove her mad. It reminded her of why I don’t live with her anymore. As nice as it was having me home, by the end of it she was keen for me to get back down to Sydney.

“Sometimes I’d have to call mum and ask her to come downstairs to help me get out of bed because I had to get into the wheelchair and stuff like that.”

Watson’s inclusion on the bench for the must-win game in Melbourne is a timely one for NSW coach Michael Maguire who wanted to pick him in game 1 but couldn’t because he was out with a throat injury.

The Blues desperately lacked versatility on the bench and that was exposed when Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii was sent off, which is what makes Watson so valuable given he can play hooker, lock, in the halves or even at centre as he has done at the Roosters this year when Suaalii was in the sin bin.

All youngsters want to start in the NRL, but the speedy Watson has realised just how valuable he is being able to handle pretty much any position on the field.

Blues Camp BLue Mts
Watson is willing to play anywhere for the Blues next Wednesday. Picture: Rohan Kelly

“My perspective on it has changed for sure. When I was younger I wanted to start,” he said.

“But as time goes on you realise that being able to cover all of these multiple positions is actually a strength and it’s actually fun and different all the time.

“You just never know where you’re going to end up. You’ve got your role which for me at the Roosters I’ll play nine and I’ll play 13 most weeks.

“But then you’ve got to be prepared for whatever else comes and when it happens, you’ve just got to go out there and just play footy.”

SPORT: State of Origin 3. NSW State of Origin side train at Bluetongue stadium, Gosford ahead of Wednesdays' game against Queensland in Brisbane. Craig Wing.
NSW coach Michael Maguire has likened Watson to Craig Wing.

The Blues have lacked a genuine game-breaking utility since they had Craig Wing, and while they share the same initials and both played for the Roosters, Watson says there’s one key difference between the pair.

“He’s pretty good-looking. I don’t know if I can compete with him on that,” he joked.

“But coming through when I first started at the Roosters I’d see him around a fair bit. We’d always chat about footy stuff and he was always there to lend a voice to me, but growing up I definitely looked up at him.

“Kurt Gidley was another one who I idolised especially being a Knights fan. I always wanted to be like him as well. They’re both incredible players and to have your name thrown up there is pretty cool. But I’m just focused on me.”