He’s been dubbed Penrith’s “forgotten man” but 2018 Panthers Rookie of the Year Jack Hetherington is determined to return to prominence again this season.
After bursting onto the scene two years ago with a standout debut year, Hetherington seemingly had the world at his feet.
The prop’s career was predicted to surge in 2019 but that never eventuated after a mysterious sternum injury coupled with serious mental health issues robbed him of that chance.
It was a confusing time not only for Hetherington and the Panthers club, but for the entire fan-base who were left in the dark about his immediate rugby league future.
Fortunately for Hetherington he eventually got the help he needed – both physically and mentally – and was able to begin the very important healing process.
The 23-year-old travelled to Queensland and underwent successful surgery to repair his sternum and, in turn, was able to get his mind back on track too.
Speaking with the Weekender, Hetherington said he wanted to put the past behind him and focus all his energy into a big year ahead.
“I’m feeling really good now and I’m really excited for the year,” he said.
“This year compared to last year is completely different. I’m in a really good headspace and I’m very excited to rip in injury-free.”
The son of Raiders great Brett Hetherington and grandson of Roosters legend Bill Mullins wasn’t comfortable going into too much detail about the last 12 months, but he wanted to assure Penrith fans that he’s finally in a good place.
“Last year was a weird one for me, I was in a bad place physically and mentally… it was a real difficult year for me,” Hetherington admitted.
“Last year is water under the bridge for me though, I’m not even looking at last year at all. I’m just excited to be part of the 17, no matter where I am. I’m just keen to rip in to 2020 and win some games.”
Hetherington credited the Panthers medical and welfare team for being patient with him last year.
“I’ve got a really good support base here at Penrith, the welfare department and the coaches helped a lot with my mental stuff,” he said.
“This pre-season has been real tough as they all are but I’m going into this year really confident.
“The vibe around here is unreal and everyone is buying into the culture. It’s just a really good feeling.”
After playing just two NRL games in 2019, expect to see a rejuvenated and healthy Jack Hetherington wearing a Panthers jumper this season.
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for nearly a decade.