LABINOT HALITI never doubted that he’d be back. Not once.
Not when the doctor delivered the gut-wrenching news that the Jets striker had ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament
Not in the painful days following surgery, which coincided with the birth of his daughter Elsa.
Not at 4am when the alarm sounded for a pre-dawn rehab session with physiotherapist Justin Dougherty .
Not when he was churning through the soft sand at Nobbys Beach, heart heaving so hard he thought it would burst through his chest.
Not during the lonely hours on an exercise bike building strength in his reconstructed knee.
“I didn’t treat it as an injury, I treated it as a weakness,” Haliti said. “A weakness I had to strengthen.”
Almost 12 months to the day from the moment Haliti went to turn in the north-west corner of McDonald Jones Stadium and heard a “pop”, the wholehearted attacker returned in the final stages of the 4-0 triumph over Brisbane on Sunday. Halti was given a rousing reception by the Jets faithful – and teammates – when he replaced Andrew Nabbout for the final two minutes.
“Being out 12 months is a long time,” Haliti said. “A lot of things go through your head and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t emotional when I went on the pitch. I had never had an injury, not even a scratch. I have always looked after my body and done all the little things right. When I did the knee I didn’t know what to expect. People were saying this and that. But to be honest, it is as hard as you make it. I had maybe one day – the day after scans confirmed the injury – where I was down. Then you just get on with it.”
Next for Haliti and the Jets is Western Sydney at Spotless Stadium on Sunday.
With Finnish striker Aleksandr Kokko (Achilles) at least a week away from turning, Haliti will again occupy a place on the bench.
“I need to be patient, keep working, listening to the coaching staff and get the body up to speed,” he said.
“More training, more training, more training and games, games, games.
“I can’t rush things. Justin has done a great job. I am in a good space, I have been in a good space for 12 months. ”
Grand finalists last year, Wanderers are fresh from a 2-1 win over champions Adelaide.
“You have to battle hard against them,” Haliti said. “It will be a big challenge but I think it is good for us. We are coming off two good results, especially the last one against Brisbane. Confidence is high but we know it is only early in the season.”
It will be Haliti’s first game against Wanderers since his departure at the end of 2014-15 season.
“I had a lot of success there,” he said.
“Four years, three finals, champions league success. Then the World Club Championships in Morocco, I captained the side there. I’d be lying if I said their wasn’t a connection there either. But I’m here now, this is where it started.”
And it is the drive – passion – for Newcastle and its success starve football faithful that pushed Haliti on the road back from injury.
“I know the town very well, I know the people and how passionate they are,” he said. “That is what drives me. You need to understand them first and know that nothing under 100 per cent will do.”