Of all the opinions in the debate about whether Tom Trbojevic should move positions – or perhaps even clubs – the one that matters most comes from 16,000km away.
Speaking from his home in Philadelphia, reconditioning specialist to the stars Bill Knowles has run the rule over Trbojevic’s gammy hammys and reckons the Manly fullback should stay put.
“No, I don’t think the position has anything to do with it,” Knowles told the Herald.
“He’s been in that position for years. If he was a centre in rugby union and then said ‘I want to be a prop’, that would be impossible because it’s not the right body type and situation.
“In his case, he doesn’t have the wrong body type or anything like that. I don’t think it’s the position.
“He does high-speed running, sometimes more than other athletes and players in his team in different positions. It’s just about the body developing the robustness over time to deal with it.
“He’s been struck down multiple times, on both sides. Is he predisposed to this? It’s the million-dollar question.”
Tom Trbojevic after one of his hamstring injuries.Credit:Getty
Indeed, Trbojevic is the million-dollar Ferrari that has been garaged too often for Manly’s liking. Which is why they sent their most precious asset to Knowles, whose client list includes Tiger Woods, Alex Rodriguez, Andy Murray, Peyton Manning and Jonny Wilkinson.
More recently Knowles has become the go-to guy to fix broken NRL stars. After just two weeks with Knowles midway through last year, Latrell Mitchell returned to his devastating best and appears to no longer be hampered by his own ongoing hamstring complaints.
It’s why the Storm sent Ryan Papenhuyzen to Knowles to help his recovery from a fractured kneecap and why Trbojevic’s immediate future is also linked to the renowned rehabilitation specialist.
Some pundits have questioned whether Trbojevic would be better served shifting to centre, where the physical demands on his hamstrings is likely to be less taxing. There have even been suggestions that perhaps the Sea Eagles should part company with the 2021 Dally M medallist altogether should he break down again.
While Knowles stressed there are never any guarantees, Trbojevic’s diligence in embracing his unique rehab-prehab program gave the 26-year-old the best chance to avoid further setbacks.
“I absolutely believe that,” Knowles said. “I can go in the other room and get that crystal ball if you want me to. The point of it all is that we often look at these injuries as an SMC program – Something Must Change.
“The change doesn’t have to be huge, it just needs to be targeted and purposeful. When we do that, experientially, I would say all of these guys have a solid chance of changing their movement strategy and quality, increasing their strength to support sustainability within the season. That’s the goal.
“If they do that, they all have a great chance of coming back. There are many other athletes worse off who have come back.
Latrell Mitchell in the US last year doing reconditioning work with Bill Knowles.Credit:Instagram
“[Former Sydney Swans and Geelong Cats client] Danny Menzel had four ACLs, four surgeries and he still played for another six or seven years in the AFL.
“You can’t prevent things, it’s not an absolute, it’s not 100 per cent, but you mitigate the risks as best you can. The human body and mind is just incredible. They can keep doing this.”
Trbojevic, Mitchell and Papenhuyzen are among the biggest stars in the NRL. They all play in the same position, but bring very different skills and physical attributes to the role. Having worked with the trio, Knowles believes they could make it in the NFL, had they grown up with the sport.
“Looking at these three guys, they have speed, change of direction and deceleration abilities that are elite in their league,” Knowles said.
“… They all have a great chance of coming back.”
“They have game sense and hands, so in theory, if you were to compare that to the NFL in various positions, then for sure, they could have done that. But they would have needed to play those games, from a skill and strategy perspective, at young ages, from 14 or 15.
“Do they have the attributes? There is no question. What positions? You are either a receiver – because our guys are all fast – so Tommy Turbo is big, like a tight-end would be.
“Latrell is kind of the same, they are tight-end-type guys, they can use their hands and catch and have pace.
“And Ryan is just blazingly fast. He could be a defensive back in the NFL. He’s not as big as the other two guys, but he’s tall. They are just different bodies.”
Only a fortnight ago, Knowles was cheering another client, tennis veteran Andy Murray, who underwent a revolutionary hip resurfacing procedure that allowed him to win an epic Australian Open clash with Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Now he is grateful that he is top-of-mind for injured NRL players.
“Having the opportunity to do what I do for 33 years, to have the chance to impart my experiences on elite level athletes, that’s what makes me excited to do what I do,” he said.
“Doing it with a few NRL players over the last six months, that’s fantastic. They have great support systems before they get to me and after they leave. The visiting physios are the ones that finish the job, they need to be given credit for that. I am a piece of the journey, a piece of the puzzle.”
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