COMEBACK KID Jy Hitchcox has revealed how a knee problem more associated with elderly women almost ended his rugby league career.
The Australian back played his first Castleford Tigers game since last May in the 16-12 win over St Helens five days ago – coming off the bench to make three try-saving tackles in the second half.
It was a remarkable return for the 26-year-old former Featherstone Rovers man, who had been warned he might have to hang up his boots after being stricken with a rare condition which left him in “excruciating” pain.
Hitchcox admitted there were times he feared he would never play again – or would not be able to reach Super League standard if he did.
“I was pretty nervous,” he said of his return.
“It felt like I was playing my first game of footy, it was so long since I’d played.
“I had my doubts if I was going to be up to it, up to Super League standard after being told I might never play again.
“It was surreal, but just to be back out there was a little goal of mine and now I realise I can play again and can compete with the best of them.”
Hitchcox made only nine appearances last season before being diagnosed with spontaneous osteonecrosis – a condition almost unprecedented in people his age.
“It is a rare bone disease,” he explained. “It is more common in women over the age of 70 and there are not many options for it.
It was surreal, but just to be back out there was a little goal of mine and now I realise I can play again and can compete with the best of them.Castleford’s Jy Hitchcox
“It is called spontaneous because it affects people for no reason – and it doesn’t affect young people. With me being an athlete, the doctors didn’t know what was going on.
“And they said it could take six months, or 10 years or might never get better.”
Hitchcox was given three options and decided to undergo surgery in a bid to save his career.
Of the alternatives, he said: “One would have left me with a metal knee and the other meant I’d have been able to lead a normal life, without sport. I took the only option that gave me a chance of playing again.”
Hitchcox revealed he was in “excruciating pain 24-seven” for four months before the operation and severe discomfort for a spell afterwards.
He said: “The last three months I have done some pretty heavy re-hab with Matty Crowther and our physio staff and it has got better.”
Hitchcox played two games on dual-registration with Batley Bulldogs before being called into Castleford Tigers’ 17 last weekend.
“I had to believe in myself, that I could get back out there,” he added. “I stuck with it and the club stuck by me. I feel an obligation to repay that and I am happy to be part of this club.”
Hitchcox accepts he will have to wait in line before regaining a regular place in the matchday squad.
“I understand I’ve been out a long time,” he stressed.
“Our wingers have been nothing short of spectacular. I know where I stand and I am happy to bide my time.
“Last weekend showed we have got a quality squad with a lot of depth. I am happy to contribute when needed and put my hand up when a job needs to be done.”