Miracle Man. Medical Marvel. Whatever you want to call him, Liam Martin is just grateful to be playing footy after fearing his season was over with a serious ankle injury.
During Penrith’s 16-0 loss to the Storm in Round 22, the 25-year-old had to be helped off the BlueBet Stadium pitch after rolling his ankle in the second half.
Pictures on the sideline showed a dejected Martin with crutches and in severe pain. Fans were gutted; the Blues forward left devastated after the club’s doctor gave him a disappointing early diagnosis.
“When I came off the doctor sort of looked at it and because the swelling was up quite high, he said that wasn’t a good sign,” Martin told Extra Time on Monday.
“So straight away I was catastrophising it. I thought it might be a syndy (syndesmosis injury) because I’ve had one of them before and knew what that felt like.”
In the days following Penrith’s third defeat of the season, Martin was still struggling to walk due to the severe pain and swelling.
After being cleared of anything major, he immediately began the rehab process so he could keep his slim chance of playing in Penrith’s Grand Final re-match against the red-hot Bunnies alive.
“A couple of days after the game I thought I was no chance of playing… I ended up tearing a few ligaments, but the doctors said it was a bit of ‘carry on’ and they could strap it up and it would be right to go,” Martin said.
“I iced my ankle heaps. I had a bucket at home with icy water in it the whole time. I was in every day getting physio treatment on it.”
The Temora Dragons junior managed to squeeze one training session in before last Thursday’s blockbuster encounter at Sydney Olympic Park, however that also ended up being quite problematic.
“I did one training session and the next day I woke up and my ankle was bloody killing me, so I thought I did more damage,” Martin said.
“But I managed to get through captain’s run on the Wednesday and by the morning of the game, it was good again.”
Thankfully Martin was able to take to the field against the Rabbitohs because it resulted in him playing a pivotal role in the Panthers securing their fourth Minor Premiership overall and their second in just three years.
With Penrith and the Bunnies level on 22 points heading into the dying stages of the match, it was Martin who broke the deadlock with a brilliant individual effort in the 78th minute.
After having two tries disallowed by The Bunker earlier in the contest, it was third time lucky for the “cranky” but determined backrower.
“That was an awesome feeling, you could probably see how much it meant to me by the way I was carrying on after scoring it,” Martin admitted.
“I had to make it up to the boys after my first two efforts failed, so when Api [Koroisau] tipped me up to run it and then when it came off, I was just ecstatic. I was holding onto the ball for dear life.”
— Penrith Panthers 🏆 (@PenrithPanthers) August 22, 2022
For the first time since the 2003 season, Penrith will be presented the coveted J.J. Giltinan Shield at home this Friday night in front of a bumper crowd at BlueBet Stadium.
Martin said while he can’t wait to celebrate their regular season achievements following the Warriors match, the team knows there’s bigger fish to fry come September.
“Ivan said, ‘minor premierships are tremendous to win’, but he gave us a reality check straight after when he said, ‘but no one remembers the Minor Premiers’, so he’s keeping us focused on the bigger picture,” Martin said.
“The fact we’ll have it presented at home and in front of our fans will be a pretty special moment, so hopefully it’s a sell-out again.”
While still a fortnight away, Penrith will go into the 2022 NRL Finals Series as clear favourites with the bookmakers and wider footy community.
Martin said his side are going to have to be at their very best if they are to go back to back.
“The whole top four is playing incredible and what the Roosters did the other day against the Tigers – they’re hitting their straps at the right time too,” he said.
“It’s going to be a tight contest and we’re going to have to play our best footy to try and get it done.”
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 a decade.