Waratahs back Joey Walton is set to make a welcome return from an ACL injury suffered during pre-season and will run out for Gordon this weekend against West Harbour at Chatswood Oval.
Walton has had to endure a stop-start beginning to his career at the Waratahs with a mixture of injuries and a global pandemic hampering his opportunities in sky-blue.
The former Australian U18 and 20’s representative was scheduled to make his Super Rugby debut for the Waratahs in 2020 in Round 8 against the Bulls before COVID hit and cancelled the competition at the completion of Round 7.
Walton eventually made his debut for the Waratahs in the 2020 Super Rugby AU competition, starting in every match of that campaign, laying claim to the starting inside centre jersey for the 2021 season.
Unfortunately for Walton the 2021 season, which looked set to be a breakout year, was robbed from him due to bad luck with injuries and the continuing COVID pandemic.
“I fractured my ankle in the 50th minute of the opening match of the season against the Reds,” Walton said.
“I spend the next four months in rehab and was cleared one week after the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman season finished. I ended up playing one game of Shute Shield for Gordon then that season got cancelled because of COVID.
“Then we spent the next four months training during lockdown and then at the start of preseason, I did my ACL. So, I've played two games in the last 18 months.”
The road back from the ACL injury took its toll on the young centre who at times struggled to deal with back-to-back season ending injuries.
“It's been eight months now since the surgery. The first two months were horrendous, I hadn't played for about a year, and then suddenly I had another injury, and I was in a hole,” Walton said.
“For the first two months it was really slow going, I was barely able to walk. However, once I got through that period things started moving a bit quicker, I was able to run again and could start to see the finishing line.
“It's been hard watching the boys this year, there’s been such a good vibe around the group it’s something I wished I could have been a part of.
“But in saying that it's been awesome to come into training every week and everyone's buzzing. So I suppose it's made it easier to come in and do my rehab.
“I’ve actually felt like I've been ready for the last two months now, but I've just had to take my time and wait and play the long game.”
Waratahs Head Coach Darren Coleman was delighted for Walton to get back and play some rugby.
“It’s a really positive outcome that Joey is back, he's worked incredibly hard and been dedicated and focused during his rehab,” Coleman said.
“He’s come off the back of not only the ACL but a broken ankle so he's due for a change of luck now.
“Our medical and strength and conditioning department did a great job with him, Will Stuart (Senior Strength and Conditioning Coach) and Allan Robinson (Waratahs Physiotherapist) have overseen his rehab and they've been really professional and got him back ahead of schedule.
“I’m really excited to see him back on the park for Gordon which will help build his confidence and set him up really well for us next season.”
Walton couldn’t contain his excitement looking towards this weekend’s match for Gordon, despite being on a minutes restriction and only able to play a maximum of 40 minutes.
“I got told over the weekend that I’m cleared to play for Gordon, and I woke up on Monday absolutely buzzing and feeling like it was game day,” Walton said.
“I don't know if I've ever been more excited in my life it’s like Christmas and my birthday all in one. “So, I've had to chill out a little and just relax so I don’t burnout.”
Gordon host West Harbour at Chatswood Oval this saturday at 3pm in Round 12 of the Charter Hall Shute Shield.