Andrew McCullough of the Broncos leaves the field injured during the Round 7 NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the Melbourne Storm at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Friday, April 20, 2018. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE
Andrew McCullough of the Broncos leaves the field injured during the Round 7 NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the Melbourne Storm at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Friday, April 20, 2018. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE

The key to McCullough’s incredible recovery

DO you want a rum and coke Macca?

The question floated in from a couple of the media boys to Andrew McCullough as they waited for a plane last Saturday evening in Mackay where McCullough had attended a coaching clinic and regional dinner.

"No chance,'' said McCullough. "I could play next week.''

Really? Crook elbow and all. There's a shock.

But surely one cheeky little rum before the plane would not make .0000001 of a difference to his chances of playing or indeed, how he would play.

"No,'' said McCullough because you never know - it just might.

This was not simply the story of McCullough's weekend but his entire career.

He may not be the biggest, fastest, or most well-paid hooker of his generation but in terms of squeezing every last bleeding drop of potential from his game it is doubtful any story can top his.

McCullough has cut no corners in his quest to get back on the field.
McCullough has cut no corners in his quest to get back on the field.

Whether it is getting the right amount of the sleep he needs, eating the right foods, doing the right exercises or staying on the wagon, he has given himself every chance.

When boxing great Joe Frazier was asked why he was looking so at peace with himself before a major fight he said "because if I go down there will be no excuses. I've done everything I can. There is nothing left to do.''

McCullough could feel the same way.

Last year McCullough was supposed to miss four to six weeks with a broken thumb. He missed three.

Then he tore a leg muscle and was supposed to be out for four to six weeks but was back in three.

On Wednesday he was cleared to return from an elbow injury that saw him miss just one week and not the four to six expected.

You had to be at Broncos training to realise what moments like this mean to a club.

People do not start punching the air or woo-hooing because he actually has not proven anything yet.

The ultimate proof of whether he is ready will be whether he and his elbow goes the distance tonight. And let's face it. Coming back early from an elbow injury is not coming back from the dead.

But once McCullough was declared a certain starter it tangibly lifted the morale not simply of the session but of everyone at the club.

In a season that grinds on with very little changing from week to week suddenly there was a fresh buoyancy that comes when someone proves, though sheer bloody-mindedness, anything is possible.

It was another little spike in McCullough's reputation which has grown steadily in recent winters.

A few years ago people were saying the Broncos would not win a premiership with McCullough at hooker. Now they say they won't win without him.

McCullough has only missed one week with an elbow injury.
McCullough has only missed one week with an elbow injury.

McCullough was desperate for an early return.

After a furious training session last Thursday he bet Broncos corporate affairs manager Trad McLean lunch that he would play this week and by Sunday was texting him asking "can I place my order now?''

For all of his commitment it must be said McCullough is no straight-laced Methodist Minister.

During the off-season he is capable of loosening up and kicking it around a bit.

I remember once receiving a wacky little text message from him while covering a Perth cricket Test which hinted that while bowlers were toiling off long runs at the WACA he may have been at an even longer lunch in Brisbane.

One long-lasting image is of him standing, numb and shattered in the Broncos dressingroom after his side had the 2015 grand final picked from their pocket by the Cowboys.

He has simply spent everything he had but even through the distress of it all there was one consoling thought - like Joe Frazier he had given all he had.

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