KADE Snowden is not sure what was worse – the week he spent lying face down in bed, the ‘‘great big needle’’ a doctor inserted directly into his spine or the fear that he might never again be able to play rugby league.
All the Knights front-rower knows is that he wants to leave such nightmarish memories as far behind him in the past as possible.
Returning to his home-town club last season, Snowden had a green-and-gold and two NSW jerseys in his wardrobe and a lucrative Nathan Tinkler contract in his back pocket.
With that came a sense of expectation, and the 26-year-old is the first to admit he did not measure up.
Snowden played 19 games and carried the ball further than any other Newcastle forward, averaging 103.7 metres and 26.2 tackles a game. But he was not the dominant force he had been at Cronulla for the previous four seasons, which, in the circumstances, was perhaps understandable.
Midway through his last season with the Sharks, he developed bulging discs in his neck and lower back, which sidelined him for a month.
‘‘It was hitting the sciatic nerve in my leg, so I was in a fair bit of pain,’’ he said. ‘‘I was on my stomach for a week at one stage. Couldn’t move.
‘‘I’d done everything I could, getting needles and that, but none of it worked and I just had to rest it. But having all that time off, I just lost all my power and strength and I’ve had to build it up from scratch.’’
Surgery to fuse discs in his spine was one option. Forced retirement was another even less palatable prospect.
‘‘It was going through my head at one stage,’’ he said.
Instead Snowden’s specialists advised time off, which allowed him to avoid the knife, for the time being at least. But even after returning to the field, for months he was restricted in the gym.
And for a player who relies more on brute strength than fancy footwork and silky skills, that meant he was under-prepared when Newcastle’s much-hyped 2012 campaign kicked off.
‘‘Coming back from my back and neck, I didn’t have much strength last year,’’ he said.
‘‘I lost a lot of it ... last year I couldn’t do many squats, because of my back.
‘‘The highest I could squat was about 60 kilos, and I was struggling. This year I’m up to about 120, which is a massive improvement.
‘‘And you can tell when I run, I’m a lot faster and there’s a lot more power in my legs.’’
Snowden soldiered on last year, braving the pain every time he twisted awkwardly in a tackle, and offered an honest appraisal of his form.
‘‘I didn’t think I was playing as good as I was at Cronulla, personally,’’ he said.
‘‘My stats were a bit worse than what they were.
‘‘I think that all came down to my back, but I think this is the season where I need to get back up there and try and get into those [representative] teams again.’’
Adding to his frustration, Newcastle finished a disappointing 12th while his former Cronulla teammates reached the play-offs.
‘‘But that year’s behind us now and I think good things are going to come,’’ he said.
And the presence of Willie Mason, Jeremy Smith, Beau Scott, Danny Buderus and David Fa’alogo has reassured Snowden that the disappointment of last year will not be repeated.
● The Country Rugby League confirmed yesterday that all outstanding registration payments had been received from Newcastle Rugby League clubs, allowing the competition to continue as usual.
Last Friday CRL officials suspended the Newcastle first- and second-division competitions indefinitely until they were reimbursed an estimated $20,000 in registration fees overdue from last year.
The Maitland Pickers, Port Stephens Sharks and Macquarie had fees outstanding.
But the fees for three of the Sharks’ junior sides were paid on time last June.
The money went missing due to an an error in NRL’s financial transaction system.