If you get to Wigan early on Friday night and see a lonely figure in red and black warming up on the DW Stadium pitch, don’t be too concerned.
The sight of someone out earlier than all of his team-mates before a big game normally means a late fitness test or a panic over someone’s ability to play: but it is just Lee Mossop doing what he needs to do to ensure he is ready to play in the Red Devils’ biggest game for a generation.
“Don’t worry about that,” he laughs. “I’ve had a bit of tendonitis with my Achilles and it’s just me making sure it’s right – it’s nothing compared to what I’ve been through before.” That is the understatement of the century from the 30-year-old.
The mental and physical effects a serious injury can provide are now well-documented in rugby league: but few modern players have had to endure more than the former England international, who is aiming to reach the second Grand Final of his career on Friday, six years on from his first. He has had quite a journey since then.
“I’ve had a pretty steep downfall from 2013,” he said. “I was winning the double with Wigan in 2013 and starting at prop for England in the World Cup but since then, it all went wrong at every opportunity.”
Mossop’s form around that time secured him a dream move to the NRL, signing for Parramatta. However, after just one season with the Eels he was on his way back home, following back-to-back shoulder injuries which both required a reconstruction. It was just the start of his problems.
“I had consecutive seven-month layoffs and I think at that time, I played twice in 18 months,” he recalls. “I did my shoulder at Parramatta, came back and did the opposite one.
“It was a big fall from grace and I was very low on confidence for a couple of years. But I feel like I’m a better person and a better player for going through that. I’m mentally tougher, I’m in a good place and I’m enjoying my rugby – I think this might be the best I’ve ever played.”
Mossop returned to England with Wigan, but again struggled for full fitness. With more injuries – and surgeries – needed to repair his shoulders, the conclusion of another two-year spell where he was predominantly on the sidelines left the forward facing up to the grim reality of life after rugby league at the age of just 27.
“It was one thing after another,” he admits. “It was looking like I had to hang them up at one point; some people have one shoulder reconstruction and have to retire: I’ve had eight of them.” And all that mental and physical torture left Mossop in an extremely dark place.
“My shoulder was horrific,” he says. “I was crying in the toilets before I played because I was petrified of playing. I wasn’t concerned with how I played, I just didn’t want my shoulder to dislocate again or get hurt – that was the lowest I got.
“My form was terrible, and I went home to the wife and said I was packing it in. I went for a coffee on my own and decided to quit, but she talked me round into having three more games just to see if there was anyone else out there. Luckily enough, Ian Watson came in for me at that time and the physio here, Rob Artingstall.. well, I put my career down to him. He’s got me back from the brink and from the lowest I’ve ever felt to the best.”
Mossop has been instrumental in Salford’s run to this stage of the play-offs. He and the likes of Gil Dudson, Greg Burke and Adam Walker are part of a pack many are calling ‘misfits’: a tag Mossop laughs at when it is put to him, before admitting it is probably a fair assumption.
“There’s lads here who nobody wanted, lads who’ve been released, some have been relegated with Widnes last year.. even the ones who were here a few years ago when we came close to going down with Salford, nobody wanted to sign us,” he smiles. “But that brings us closer together. We’ve got an unbelievable team spirit and we are a dangerous side.”
Mossop also insists Salford have nothing to fear about a return to Wigan on Friday – which all that is standing between the Red Devils and a first Grand Final.
He said: “As I say we’re a dangerous side and we’re very confident we can beat either of those two teams on our day. It didn’t quite go our way at Wigan but if the ball bounces another way on that night, it could have been us winning that game.
“It’s getting real now. We’re 80 minutes away. We want to win it, and we know we’ve got to beat them both (Wigan and St Helens).”
And if it is Salford celebrating on Friday night, few will deserve their place in the biggest game of the season more than Mossop – who has been to the absolute brink as a player before finding a way back to the top. His journey is an inspiration to any young aspiring player.