ON Friday, a long and emotional journey comes to an end for Joe Philbin.

By the time the clash with Leigh Leopards comes around, it will be 266 days since he suffered the injury every sportsman or woman dreads.

ACL – three fateful letters that take months if not years off careers.

Having completed his nine-month road to recovery, however, he is ready to catapult himself back into the Warrington Wolves first team.

So are there any nerves about his impending comeback?

Warrington Guardian: Philbin on a training run during pre-seasonPhilbin on a training run during pre-season (Image: Warrington Wolves)

“It's pure excitement, to be honest,” Philbin exclusively told the Guardian.

“The medical team have done a great job with me, Nick Murphy (physio) and Ade Gardner (head of performance) in particular.

“They’ve put me through that many bad situations and scenarios that it’s taken any nerves away because I’ve been tested so much.

“I’ve got full confidence and I’ve got no nerves about the injury – there might be nerves on the day as I’ve not strapped up the boots for a while but at the minute, it’s just excitement.

“The boys are flying and have had a great start to the season, so it just increases the excitement to get back playing again.

“I don’t have nerves but the only thing I’m really conscious of is that I want to come back and perform straight away.

“Some people who have ACLs have a bit of a hangover when they come back but I don’t want that.

“Jimmy Harrison is the perfect example – he came in and brought something straight away and that’s what I need to do.

“I don’t want to make up numbers – I want to make a difference in the team.”

Before his injury, Philbin had been virtually ever-present for his hometown club, establishing himself as a key part of the middle unit under first Steve Price and then Daryl Powell.

On June 24 last year, however, all of that was put on hold.

He wound up to take in a typically rumbustious carry during The Wire’s clash with Hull FC but before he could get within touching distance of the defensive line, he hit the floor.

He knew it. Those around him knew it. The thousands watching both in the ground and on television knew it. Something serious had happened.

Warrington Guardian: Philbin is treated after going down injured against Hull FC last JunePhilbin is treated after going down injured against Hull FC last June (Image: Mike Boden)

“I knew what I’d done,” he reflected.

“I just heard the dreaded “pop” in my knee and just knew straight away.

“They were trying to keep me positive – they were saying we’d wait to see what the scans said and that it might be fine.

“They were never going to tell me that I’d done it without any evidence, but I knew that they knew too.

“It’s a funny story that me and Connor Wrench often joke about – I dropped the ball out of pure fear whereas he scored a try after he’d done his so he’s clearly a lot tougher than me!

“In that first 20 seconds after I’d done it, I cried on the floor a little bit.

“Doing your ACL is a sportsman’s biggest fear but I was able to flip my mindset and see it as a challenge.

“I attacked it from there, did everything I had to do and now I’m really confident with all the work that’s gone in.”

Reconstructive surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee can be the death knell for a career. At best, it ends seasons and a gradual, painstaking rehabilitation ensues.

For Philbin, though, the road to where he finds himself now started the very night he picked up the injury as he sought inspiration from a well-known footballer.

It meant that, even through the trials and tribulations recovery sent his way, his relentless positivity was able to endure.

Warrington Guardian:

“I never sleep after a game anyway but the night after we’d played that game and I got the injury, I spotted something on Youtube,” the 28-year-old said.

“The footballer Hector Bellerin (formerly of Arsenal and currently of FC Barcelona) had done his ACL and he did a nine-part series documenting his recovery from it.

“It was about three hours of viewing but I just sat and watched it all that night straight after the game.

“That got me in the right headspace in terms of mapping out what to do at certain stages.

“I’ve leant on friends who have had the same injury and got advice off them – all of that has enabled me to be pretty positive about it.

“I’m a “glass half-full” person and worrying about the situation wasn’t going to do anything for me.

“I looked at it as a challenge of “how can I make myself better?”

“There were a few inefficiencies in my body from niggles I’ve had in the past, so it’s given me a chance to rest them up and get my whole body right.

“That was the positive spin I put on it – it was a chance to give my body a rest having not missed much rugby for the previous five or six years.”

Warrington Guardian:

As it happens, Philbin’s return is a timely one.

With Gil Dudson also working his way back from a broken hand suffered in pre-season, Josh McGuire suspended for another three matches and James Harrison managing a knee problem, the remaining middles are going through the mill.

They are performing admirably under the circumstances, but the extra energy and impact Philbin will likely bring will freshen things up if nothing else.

With Friday’s visitors arriving full of confidence with a host of former Warrington players desperate to prove a point in their ranks, he is being thrown straight into the deep end but would not have it any other way.

“The middles have been absolutely outstanding – every single player has been excellent,” he said.

“There’s lads in there playing busted and with a few niggles but they’ve just kept turning up and putting in monster performances.

“We’ve gone out and signed a massive pack so I’m excited to add my little bit to it.”