For a player who gives more cheek than most, it was somewhat ironic that Wendell Sailor had his broken in his highly anticipated comeback on Friday night.
It has been more than six years since the 31-year-old last played NRL football - four-and-a-half of them when playing rugby union and two after a drugs ban for cocaine - and his comeback for the Dragons lasted only 35 minutes in his side's comfortable 28-10 win over the Broncos.
The big winger collected a David Stagg elbow flush on his cheek when he tried to tackle the Broncos back-rower. He played out the rest of the half, but was then taken to hospital with his wife and two children by his side. "He was saying it's a bit of a speed bump, rather than a mountain to climb," Dragons football manager Neil Lovett told the Sydney Morning Herald. "He's been over the mountain already. This comeback isn't going to be as hard as that one."
Sailor underwent surgery on his cheekbone yesterday and is expected to be out of action for 4-6 weeks.
The night had promised so much, especially with Sailor himself talking up his own chances of a successful return. His first run left Ashton Sims sprawled on the ground and fans salivating for more. But as the Dragons raced away to a comfortable 20-6 lead, courtesy of some enterprising play against a severely understrength Broncos side, Sailor was a virtual passenger, "Big Dell" left sucking in the big ones on more than one occasion.
Given the form of the Dragons and the impending return of Mark Gasnier and Matt Cooper, who are both on Origin duty with NSW, it's unlikely the Sailor will be missed too much over the coming weeks, with even his gate appeal having lost some of its lustre with a disappointing crowd of 11,432 in Wollongong.
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett, who worked with Sailor before his defection to rugby union in 2002, claimed there may have been a positive to his former protege's injury woes.
"Will it stop him from talking about himself, is it that serious?" Bennett said. "He'll be back, bigger and larger than life... he'd be talking himself up into the third Origin if he'd have played the full night tonight."
Dragons coach Nathan Brown praised his side's fighting qualities as they registered their fourth win on the trot to elevate them into the top eight before last night's games. But he admitted the win had been soured by Sailor's injury.
"A lot of people watching tonight were probably here to watch Wendell, that's the way she goes but he'll fight back."
- AAPBy Michael Brown