Soul-destroying time out has left Hull FC's Liam Watts lean and mean
WITH the muffled sound of his team-mates running drills on the training field, Liam Watts reaches for the dial on the treadmill.
Speeding up, Watts refocuses and channels his frustration to his advantage. It's January 2013, and while Hull FC are preparing for the start of the new season, Watts is cutting a lonely figure in the gym.
A repeat of the thumb injury sustained in the final game of last season has meant another operation and a three-month rehabilitation.
"It really has been soul destroying training on my own," admits Watts, now three months later and with his first game of the season under his belt.
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"With the lads not playing as well as they wanted to as well, that gave me even more determination to get back stronger and that helped me, but it was really hard training on my own.
"I did the injury at the back end of last year and it wasn't too bad because it was the last game of the season so I thought it would heal and then I'd be able to get stuck into pre-season.
"But then I did it again and I've been training now for six months without being able to play a game. Because it was pre-season we've not really had any injuries until Gareth Ellis got injured, so I was on my own. It got on my nerves."
Since those lonely days in January Watts has had this weekend's game at Huddersfield in his mind. An initial target for his return, the 22-year-old's hard work meant a first appearance at home to his former club Castleford, a week ahead of schedule.
It was no surprise to anyone at the club Watts was back in action earlier than originally expected. Rather than dwell in self pity at his predicament, Watts utilised his time out to re-shape his physique. And the results are striking.
"I had a chat with Paul Devlin our conditioner at the start of the year about stripping down as much as I could but still being physical and big," says Watts, who now looks fitter than at any stage in his career.
"At the end of last season I was over 17 stone and now I am 16 stone exactly, so I've dropped a lot. Fitness-wise, I am up there now and it is something I have worked a lot on."
Eager to be slighter yet retain the sort of punch that helped him make an impact when he burst on the Super League scene at Hull KR, Watts is confident his new fitness will bring new rewards.
"Last year I was playing in short bursts," he adds. "I did that last weekend on my comeback, playing 15 minutes on then 15 minutes off. I don't think that will be the case this weekend because of injuries, but I'm ready now to play more minutes.
"I don't mind playing more minutes, but I don't want to be playing 25 minutes at a time if only 15 minutes of them are good minutes.
"I don't want to be putting pressure on the team by missing tackles, so I'm ready to play longer, but only if I am benefiting the team."
The need for Watts to play more minutes will be amplified this evening with Hull nursing a number of injuries, while Danny Tickle will sit out a one-match ban for fighting.
Against a team aptly named Giants, Watts' return to the Black and Whites' line-up has brought strength and size to a Hull pack that has missed his presence.
The performance of Watts and his fellow forwards will be pivotal to tonight's result at the John Smith's Stadium and the prop knows it.
A return to winning ways against the Tigers has injected fresh confidence into a team that was shell- shocked a week earlier at Widnes.
Under the glare of the television cameras the onus is on Hull to now back that performance up. Having disappointed three times already on television this season, Watts knows it is about time Hull showed the general public they are a better team than they've demonstrated so far.
"We've had three TV games and three defeats and it's something the players are aware of," adds Watts.
"It is a big thing for us and we mentioned it at training this week during one of our team talks. Every time we've been on Sky we have been hammered and it going to have to be a big week for us to stop that stat."