CRONULLA Sharks top prop forward Bryce Gibbs is out of rugby league for half the season after he sustained an unusual injury doubling on top of a previous heel problem.
Gibbs’ absence following his operation spoilt an otherwise impressive Sharks season launch at Sharkies Leagues Club on Monday night.
Now, Andrew Fifita — the Sharks big All Stars prop and Gibbs’ former Tigers team-mate — looks certain to be asked to fill Gibbs’ spot in the starting side when the Sharks host the Gold Coast Titans in round one of the new NRL season at Shark Park on Sunday week.
It also puts extra pressure on the Sharks other props, the experienced Ben Ross, Mark Taufua and Jon Green.
Gibbs’ problems began when he trod on a glass and cut his heel at home before Christmas. Having just recovered from shoulder surgery and not thinking the cut was that serious, he wrapped it up and didn’t seek immediate treatment.
By the time Sharks medico Dave Givney saw it, the wound needed extra treatment including about 30 stitches, and an MRI also detected a small (one millimetre) cut to his Achilles.
Gibbs’ slow recovery appeared to be finally over when he was ruled fit enough to go on in the Sharks’ second trial, against Newcastle, in Tamworth last Saturday night.
But he only lasted a minute, coming off in pain with what Dr Givney described as a ‘‘highly unusual injury’’.
‘‘He hurt the same heel but this time a three-centimetre piece of tendon pulled off his heel,’’ said Givney. ‘‘I have only seen two Achilles injuries in my lifetime and I’ve never seen anything like this.
‘‘Bryce already carried a lot of scar tissue around the area, so we initially feared he might be gone for the year.’’
Scar tissue was removed during an operation performed by Hurstville Community Hospital leg specialist John Megreine, who also repaired Todd Carney’s ruptured Achilles at the end of last season.
Later, Givney told the popular Sharks prop the ‘‘better news’’ — that he should be back playing in three to four months.
Gibbs is optimistic of the earliest return to the football field. ‘‘I’m planning to be back by round 11,’’ he said yesterday.
The Sharks, still to announce major sponsors, did showcase a charity partnership with the McGrath Foundation and Sutherland Shire organisation Project Youth for 2013 at Monday’s season launch, before parading the team with youngsters from all junior clubs.
The Sharks will support and help promote various McGrath Foundation and Project Youth events, along with a special ‘‘pink’’ McGrath Foundation jersey to recognise and support the Women In League round.
“We’re really excited to have the Sharks ‘pink up’ for the McGrath Foundation this year,’’ said McGrath Foundation CEO, Kylea Tink.
‘‘With McGrath breast care nurse Kim Wright based at Sutherland Hospital, the friendship will really strengthen our ties with the local community both on and off the field.’’
Who should replace Gibbs?
Fan club: Bryce Gibbs signs posters for fans from Bundeena, his home town, at a Cronulla Sharks fan day. Picture: Jane Dyson
Charity union: Sharks club president Damian Irvine with McGrath Foundation chief executive, Kylea Tink. Picture: John Veage
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