THERE are few bigger wrecking-ball backs in Super League than Ricky Leutele, but the Leigh star could do little more than walk for several months last year.
Leutele has been out of action since last July due to a serious spinal injury, which saw him miss the Leopards’ Challenge Cup triumph.
He had been one of the competition’s form centres until his season ended in a win at Salford.
“I had a bulging disc. I got hit in the tackle and my neck went into hyper-extension. When that happened, the bulging disc hit my spinal cord and bruised it,” Leutele told League Express.
“At the time it happened, I couldn’t get up to play the ball. My legs and my arms were shaky. It was like my body shut down.
“I played the ball and as the game went on the physio and the doctor were trying to get me off. Ten minutes went by before they finally got me off.
“At the time I didn’t think too much of it, I didn’t think it was that bad. We hadn’t had scans yet. It all settled down.
“But the specialist said ‘it’s pretty bad, you need to have the disc removed’. From there, mentally it was a bit draining at first and hard to take that news.
“The first three or four months were pretty hard, not being able to do anything. Going from being pretty active, to doing nothing.
“You can go for walks if there’s no symptoms. After that, you can start doing a light run or a light bike, but no weights until you start building up your neck strength.”
Only since the turn of the year has Leutele been in contact training: “It’s more the mental side of things now, getting confident in contact and tackling. I’m getting there.”
He should be ready for the season’s start and the 33-year-old wants to make up for lost time, not least by playing his part in more success.
“I was very happy for everyone who got to play in it and win it, but it was hard knowing I should be out there playing,” he reflects on the Challenge Cup triumph which capped Leigh’s excellent 2023 season.
“I look at it now and we can try and go back-to-back and defend that Challenge Cup. It’s one of my goals this year, to play at Wembley and get me a medal.”