Teenage forward Rob Mulhern has gone from an injury nightmare to living the dream.
The 19-year-old, from South Elmsall, made his Leeds debut in the 54-6 win over London Broncos at Headingley Carnegie three days ago, less than a year after suffering a broken leg playing for Rhinos’ academy in a game at Castleford Tigers.
Though he is at the start of his rugby career, that was the second serious injury suffered by Mulhern and he reckons those two setbacks have made him even more determined to make a living from the game.
After sitting on the bench throughout the first half last Friday, the former Castleford Panthers and Normanton Knights junior was introduced to top-flight rugby seven minutes into the second half.
“I loved it,” Mulhern said. “Playing in front of a packed crowd at Headingley, I have been thinking about it for years. Especially after last season, when I broke my leg, it was great to make my debut.
“I was told on Tuesday I might be 18th man, then half an hour later I was told I was on the bench. I was really surprised, but I couldn’t wait to get out there.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about it, but all the lads were great with me. They told me not to worry and to just play my normal game and I was pleased with how it went.
“I got more game time than I expected and I thought I went all right. Obviously I have a lot to work on, but that will come with time and experience. I have just got to keep working hard now and keep going.”
Mulhern got a first indication he could be in coach Brian McDermott’s plans when he was included in the squad which went abroad for pre-season training.
“When I was told I was going to Portugal I couldn’t stop smiling,” he recalled. “It was a great opportunity for me. I went over there and it was really good to bond with some of the lads, because I hadn’t spent much time with them before. I have just gone on from there and tried to kick on.”
Mulhern, who finished his ‘A’ Levels last year, is not yet full-time, but has set his sights on earning a professional deal for 2015.
“Hopefully I can crack-on, keep impressing and earn that full-time contract,” he said. “That is my aim, definitely. I just need to keep impressing Mac and if he sees fit, hopefully I can get a contract.
“It would be nice to play a few more games as well. I’d love to get out there again.”
The joy of Friday’s night’s first senior appearance was a far cry from the despair Mulhern suffered last year, when his season was ended by a broken leg.
Reflecting on that, he said: “That was about 10 or 12 games into the season and I was out for the rest of the year. It was kind of an eye opener, because it made me realise how much I missed playing.
“It made me determined to get back for pre-season and crack on then. In a way it was blessing in disguise, because it really did make me miss it. I thought I have only got one year left [in the under-19s] and I have to crack on.”
That was his second major injury setback.
He explained: “The year before, I had a subdural haematoma. The lining between my skull and my brain, I got a bleed on it.
“I was having bad headaches and I was told if I’d got another knock on it it might have split open and I could have had to have an operation.
I had to be really careful with it and I had six months out.
“That happened in the last game of the year, so I missed all of pre-season. With my leg I missed all but the last month. It has been quite hard to maintain my fitness, but I’ve really tried to trim down and I’ve got the reward for it, making my debut, so I am over the moon.”
Less determined players may have decided to look for a different career after two such serious setbacks, but Mulhern said he has fully recovered from both injuries and has no fears about a recurrence of the head wound.
“I was advised to stop playing, but I thought it was a one in a million chance really,” he said.
“It was a freak accident, so I wasn’t too bothered. I am fine now and I’ve not had any problems since it happened. It has completely cleared up now and I don’t really think about it any more.”
Mulhern did not take up rugby league until he was around 13, but is now playing for the club he used to support.
“I was a massive Leeds United fan and from there I went on to Leeds Rhinos,” he said. “I remember watching it on TV and I went to school in Featherstone, which is a massive rugby league area. A few of my mates asked if I wanted to go down and give it a try and it went from there. I had a year at Castleford Panthers, two at Normanton and I was in the under-16s at Wakefield before I came here.”