Tom Davies has been to the brink – staring at the ceiling in a hospital room on the longest night of his life, wondering if he would ever play Rugby League again after one of the most horrific on-field injuries ever witnessed in Super League.
But just seven months later the 22-year-old is only looking forward at a bright new future in the south of France. The former Wigan winger tells League Express about his journey from despair to the Dragons.
“It was the lowest point of my life. I lay there thinking to myself ‘this is it, it’s over’…”
When reality finally dawned and the delirium of pain-killing drugs subsided, Tom Davies – an England Knight and in possession of the number two jersey at Wigan Warriors – burst into tears at prospect of his career-ending in Salford Royal Hospital.
Still wearing his kit from the match at DW Stadium where, four hours earlier, he had sustained a double leg fracture and dislocated ankle in a Good Friday clash against St Helens, Davies hit rock bottom.
Television viewers had earlier recoiled in horror as images of Davies’ twisted foot were broadcast on Sky Sports followed by the surreal image of the player giving the thumbs up as he was stretchered off.
“I was in Disneyland at the time,” says Davies.
“They gave me some very strong drugs on the pitch and I didn’t know what day it was. I saw my foot facing the wrong way but didn’t feel any pain. I just thought that if my girlfriend or mum were watching I needed to let them know I was alright, so I stuck the thumbs up. Seems silly now.
“I remember George Williams coming over and nearly fainting when he saw it and there’s me with the thumbs up. Gilly (Oliver Gildart) texted me later to tell me that I was shouting at my team-mates, telling them to keep going, the game wasn’t over. I must have been off my head because I can’t remember a thing.
“I do remember being put on a table in the dressing room and my mum was already there waiting. As I kept chugging on a pain-killing inhaler, the club doctor explained he had to put the dislocated joint back immediately because if blood clots were allowed to form I could lose my foot. He told me to brace myself and I heard three loud cracks as the ankle was reset and the splintered leg bones ground together. I’ll never forget that sound.”
Davies was rushed by ambulance to Salford Royal, where a plaster cast was immediately applied to stabilise the injury and reduce further damage.
“The cast was put on so they could take accurate scans and fully assess the damage. I was due to see the consultants the following morning. I had my whole family with me and my dad hugged me saying ‘whatever happens, we’ll look after you’, but everyone was in tears.
“After my family had left I spent the whole night thinking the worst. It all came crashing down on me. Would I be able to play again, and would I be as strong or as fast? I was even thinking I could bulk up and become a forward if I lost some pace because of the injury. My head was in bits.
“After a terrible night I got a phone call first thing and it was Shaun Wane – my former coach – asking how I was and telling me I’d be okay. It really helped to calm me down before the surgeons came to tell me the news. That’s typical Waney; as a player you always knew he had your back and genuinely cared about you.
“Anyway, it was good news from the consultants; they’d had a good look and, despite a clean break of the fibula and three fractures of the tibia, plus the dislocation, they said I should be able to make a full recovery after the operation.
“I had to keep the plaster on for a week to control the swelling before they operated and it was a tough week. My foot swelled so much I thought it would break the cast and my toes turned purple.
“But the surgeons did a great job, repairing the bones, inserting a long metal plate and putting it all back together again.
“They were brilliant – in fact all of the care I received from the Wigan club and hospital staff was incredible. It really gave me the confidence that I could make a full recovery.”
But, despite the prognosis, Davies soon spiralled into dark thoughts about his future.
“During recovery, I was in a lot of pain and I began to doubt what the doctors had told me. Sitting at home watching my Wigan team-mates battling through the season was difficult, so my parents took me to a holiday cottage in Cornwall to change my environment.
“And with the help of the Wigan club chaplain, welfare officer and physio Tom O’Malley, I managed to pick myself up to believe I had a future in the game.”
Davies didn’t know at the time, but his future would be in Perpignan with Super League’s French outpost club. He admits that, prior to the injury, he had already thought about leaving his hometown club, despite signing a four-year deal at Wigan.
“There are so many good wingers at Wigan that I couldn’t guarantee game-time and the way that Wigan were playing didn’t suit my style. I have total respect for Adrian Lam and what he’s trying to do, but it didn’t fit with the kind of player that I am.
“I’m better suited to more creative broken play, feeding off players like Sam Tomkins, who is a genius at carving out space on the pitch.
“So the opportunity came up to join the Catalans and I met with Steve McNamara and Richard Hunwicks and immediately bought into what they are trying to do here.
“It’s still a very young club – just 13 years old – but it has massive potential. The coaches are trying to create something special here, changing some of the systems and bringing in a professional environment from top to bottom.
“I look at former Wigan team-mates like Lewis Tierney, who was part of history last year, being in the first French team to win the Challenge Cup and I want to be part of that. I really believe this club has the potential to go all the way and win Super League.
“My grandad, great-grandad and uncle all played professional Rugby League and I want to make my mark too. I’ve now got a chance to be a part of a historic ground-breaking squad with the potential to make history.”