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Connor Watson admits he was caught short when the call came for him to play his first game in 524 days.

“Yeah, I was on the toilet, and the physio ran in and said, ‘You’re on, come on’,” Watson told, explaining his reintroduction to rugby league in Gosford on Saturday.

What’s a few more minutes after what felt like an eternity recovering from a serious knee injury?

A Central Coast junior, Watson felt right at home coming off the bench for the Roosters late in the third quarter of their 36-22 Pre-Season Challenge victory over Manly at Industree Group Stadium.

Watson found space up the middle, darting from dummy half on several occasions, and his try five minutes from full-time sealed the win after the Sea Eagles had just closed the gap to 24-22.

The 27-year-old utility was making his first appearance since the Roosters’ qualifying final loss to South Sydney at Allianz Stadium in 2022.

Every try from Roosters v Sea Eagles

Watson tore the patella tendon in his left knee in a training mishap only a few days into 2023 and, despite hoping to return at some stage last season, he was eventually shut down.

“I had all intentions of getting back and playing last year but when you keep your leg straight for eight weeks, the rest of the muscles in your calf and quad just sort of disintegrate and it felt like you’re starting from scratch again,” Watson said.

“Then it came down to building as much muscle on as quickly as we could, and my knee just wasn’t having it, so in the end we put it on ice and let the knee really settle and calm down.

“The whole pre-Christmas period, from the end of our off-season into the start of pre-season, it’s all about strength – getting strong again – so I didn’t start running again until the first day back at the start of January, so it’s been a quick transition from there to getting back to play.

“So for pretty much 12 months it was no footy, no running, just weights and different sort of strength stuff and some AlterG (anti-gravity) running, so it’s been a long process but it’s been rewarding.

“I’ve learnt a lot along the way and got back to play today and it felt good.”

Roosters coach Trent Robinson singled Watson out for praise during the team’s post-game debrief.

“It’s tough being a year out of the game when you’ve come back to make an impact back at the Roosters, and he’s worked really hard. I think everyone knows how physical he is,” Robinson said.

Daniel Tupou Try

“Then I made him sit there and wait for a period of time, but he looked fit, and the intensity that he brings, it was a great start from him. He really said, ‘I’m ready to play’.

“He only really came back into full training five weeks ago, but his superpower is his physicality and intensity, and his ability just to go back out there and do that again. He gets up to speed really quickly, and I think he showed his quality out there, and how he wants to play.

“I still think his best position is 13, but he’s looking at that utility position with us as well. There’s a race between Sandon [Smith], Connor and Zach [Dockar-Clay], so that was a good outing for him.”

Almost a year to the day after sustaining his knee injury, Watson targeted the trials when the Roosters resumed their pre-season build-up in early January, but he was pleasantly surprised how quickly his body adapted to running.

Roosters v Sea Eagles - Pre-Season 2024

“From when I started back running in January, my intentions were always to be ready to play in the trials but we had a lot of hurdles to jump,” Watson said.

“I think the fact that we spent that time getting it stronger, that meant that when I started running again, there were no setbacks, so within two weeks I was back at team training… and that went well.

“I felt like I had a little bit of rust there, but I really enjoyed it. I just wanted to go out there and have fun, and not put any pressure on myself.

“I just wanted to play and run, take them on, and I had some good opportunities to do that.

“It was a starting point. It’s been a long time, over 500 days or something since I last played, so it was good.”

Watson, who signed a two-year contract extension last November securing him until the end of 2025, will travel to Las Vegas with the Roosters on Wednesday, harbouring hopes of being included in the 17 to tackle the Broncos.

“Luckily enough the club believed in me and gave me two more years even though I had done my knee, so this is definitely a big year for me just to pay back that faith they’ve shown in me,” he said.

“Injuries are a part of the game, and you go through some rough trots, and hopefully I’m out of that and I can go through the rest of my career injury-free, and finish off my career as a Rooster.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Sydney Roosters respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.