THE battle to avoid relegation will be small fry for Leeds Rhinos hooker Shaun Lunt in comparison to the “toughest year” of his life.
It is coming up the first anniversary of the ex-England international’s frightening health scare that left him hospitalised for weeks.
Playing for Hull KR at the time, he was initially told he had meningitis only to later discover it was the potentially life-threatening blood poisoning condition sepsis, caused by an infected abscess on his spine.
It ruled Lunt out of Rovers’ successful fight against relegation and he did not make his playing comeback until March.
Even then, the 31-year-old played only six more games in the next four months.
However, he is fit and well now and, having rejoined Leeds on loan in July, there is no way he is going to miss their own scrap to pull clear of the danger zone.
Lunt, who won a Grand Final when last on loan at Rhinos from Huddersfield Giants in 2012, has started the last four games since making his ‘second’ debut off the bench, ironically in the loss against KR.
Asked if he feels he is getting back to his best, the Cumbrian remained reticent.
“The thing is I didn’t get a pre-season so I didn’t get any foundations to build on,” said Lunt.
“There’s no doubt it’s been the hardest year of my life by a country mile.
“It’s been tough and I’ve just got to keep plugging away.
“There’s no excuses or anything like that but I’m just glad to be playing; I’m really grateful to just actually be out there and still playing.
“I have to keep chipping at it.”
Leeds’ interim head coach Richard Agar, though, believes the experienced hooker’s arrival has helped ease the pressure off in-form Brad Dwyer.
Whether he will be offered a deal for 2o2o is, as yet, unclear.
“There’s nothing yet; I’ve got to speak to my manager and see what the crack is,” said Lunt.
“Obviously the market’s a bit slow at the moment with what’s going on – there’s five clubs who could still go down – so we’ll just have to wait and see.
“But I’m really glad to be back. I’ve always loved it at this club and always wanted to come back at some point.
“When I signed at Hull KR long term I didn’t think I’d ever come back so it’s quite weird how things have worked out but it’s been fantastic.
“I love it here.”
Lunt knows that contest to avoid the dreaded last spot is only going to intensify in the weeks ahead.
Leeds looked to have pulled clear of danger with an impressive 44-0 win at fellow strugglers Huddersfield, backed-up by a fine 48-8 success against Catalans Dragons.
But last week’s 36-20 home defeat to leaders St Helens, coupled with other results, means they are still not safe with three games to go.
Bottom-placed London Broncos – where Rhinos head next on Sunday week – won in Perpignan and only points difference now separates them from Huddersfield and Hull KR while Wakefield and Leeds are just two points further ahead.
“With that win in Catalans, it’s going to be really tasty now,” said Lunt, who started out at Castleford Tigers, played for England in the 2010 Four Nations and won the 2013 League Leaders Shield with Huddersfield.
“Hull KR lost to Wakefield so Wakefield have joined us and gone above KR but both of them have to play London as well so it is going to be really tasty with these last few games coming up.
“There’s no point panicking just yet, though. We’re in a good position; we’re four points ahead of bottom and two points ahead of Huddersfield and Rovers.
“If it’s the last game of the season and we need to win then, yes, that’s when you start panicking.
“But we just have to keep plodding on and keep doing our bit.”
Leeds were level 10-10 at half-time against Challenge Cup finalists Saints last week despite wasting a raft of decent possession.
He recalled: “We didn’t complete when we got down there and no matter who you play – never mind the league leaders – you can’t do that.
“They are just a really fast side. We didn’t really get a foothold and it was a bit back and forward.
“They sorted it out at half-time.
“Whoever did that would come out and win; Saints did and we didn’t but now we look to sort it for London.”