NRL 2020: Warriors' Gerard Beale eyes change of fortunes before injury return

NZ Warriors utility back Gerard Beale freely admits his time in Auckland hasn't gone to plan.

At the end of the 2017 season, he signed a three-year deal with the Warriors, determined to help the New Zealand franchise win its maiden NRL premiership. A year earlier, he had helped the Cronulla Sharks break their 48-year wait for their first.

But six weeks after putting pen to paper, disaster struck, when he fractured his lower leg playing for the Kiwis in the Rugby League World Cup opener against Samoa.

Seven months later, he finally made his Warriors debut, but Beale struggled to hold down a regular position, logging games on the wing, centre, off the bench... even at five-eighth. 

Fast forward to August 18, 2019. The Warriors' season was on the line, facing the defending-champion Roosters at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Early in the first half, the Warriors led, but time stopped when Beale lay on the field in agony, after colliding with Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

Gerard Beale is taken off the field after a horror injury against the Sydney Roosters.
Gerard Beale is taken off the field after a horror injury against the Sydney Roosters. Photo credit: AAP

He was eventually stretchered off the field and his season - like the Warriors - was officially over, after being diagnosed with a fractured patella in his left knee, the same leg he injured at the World Cup. 

His injuries have limited him to 25 of a possible 49 games with the Warriors, which Beale admits has been frustrating. 

"My time at the Warriors has been with injuries, which has kept pulling me back from giving my all out there," he told Newshub.

"I was able to win a premiership at the Sharks and being part of the first team able to win was special. Coming across to the Warriors, I was hoping to create something equally as special with all the boys."

Queensland-born Beale hopes it's a case of third year lucky in 2020. 

"The first couple of years have been tough," he says. "Injuries have held me back, but i've been working on other areas of my body to fine tune it, so I can unleash." 

Earlier in his career, Beale, who also played for the Brisbane Broncos and St George Illawarra Dragons, underwent two prior knee reconstructions, but the scar from his latest injury stands out the most. 

That setback has left Beale pondering his rugby league future.

Gerard Beale during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
Gerard Beale during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. Photo credit: Photosport

The 29-year-old is one of 12 players off contract at the end of the season and Beale is well aware this year could be his last. 

He says it's too early to make the retirement call yet, but he wants to give his all on the field, in what he's describing as the biggest year of his career. 

"It's a massive year. Coming off an injury, I'm at that point in my career where, once I get back out there, it'll tell me which way to go.

"This could be my last year or I could continue playing.

"I get anxious thinking about it. I enjoy playing and I want to give my best... and we'll see how it goes."

Even though this time at the Warriors has been marred by injuries, the 11-test Kiwis international has used his experience to help younger players in the team.

Of the Warriors’ 30-man squad, only four - Beale with the 2016 Sharks, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck with the 2013 Sydney Roosters, Adam Blair with the 2009 Melbourne Storm and Tohu Harris with the 2017 Storm - who have won an NRL Grand Final. 

He's also the Warriors' most experienced back with 187 NRL games played. 

"During my recovery, the coaches assigned me to cut clips and give feedback to players.

"There is lots of talent here and some need fine-tuning, so hopefully I can help them."

His recent injury was so severe, coaching staff - and even Beale himself - admit they feared the worst.

At the time, assistant coach Stacey Jones recounted how Beale's kneecap had "snapped in half" and was "just about popping out of the skin", it was that gruesome.

Beale was determined to get back out on the field and has put in the hard yards behind the scenes.

"I've had the whole off-season to get it right. If it happened in round one, my mindset might be different, but I’ve been lucky with the timing.

"Up until Christmas, I was locked in the gym, on the bike and doing rehab, but all of that has helped me to get to this stage."

Beale hopes to get clearance for contact drills in the next week and targets a return to the field in round four with the Warriors' reserve-grade side. 

"The last few weeks, I've been out with the boys, doing team stuff, all the ball work, running games. It's just the contact component I've been held back.

"I'll do a couple of weeks of full contact, instead of jumping straight out there. It will be a building thing.

"The body feels good, I just need to get that final clearance. It's not far away, getting close."

Beale puts some of the success to his recovery down to new trainer Craig Twentyman, who has worked his magic with the entire team.

NZ-born Twentyman, who previously worked with Rugby Australia, replaced the renowned Alex Corvo. 

"Seeing how last year went, they wanted to make a change and adjust that area, not only for the training, but with the travel and the way we keep the bodies fresh.

"The difference has been lots of speed and power, but we have been doing lots of the same tests and all the boys are all hitting their targets." 

If Beale is forced to hang up the boots, he will hold one regret during his career. 

"I hate to think how many games I could have played, if I didn't get injured, but it's what I signed up for," he chuckles. 

Gerard Beale has been working hard to return to full fitness.
Gerard Beale has been working hard to return to full fitness. Photo credit: Photosport

"It's pushed me into other things, off-the-field things to focus on. It's not the end of the world, but being an athlete, it's a short window, and I want to give my best and do something special." 

Beale isn't the only one at the club who had suffered their unfair share of injuries, with three members of the Warriors staff - Jerome Ropati, Ben Henry (wellbeing officers) and Slade Griffin (Future Warriors programme) -  all forced into early retirement with busted knees. 

"They're good guys to have around and been through some tough experiences, so they're great to go to.

"Being inured is hard, because often you train by yourself, you're not with the team all the time, but it keeps your mind engaged and you see things from a different angle. 

"Sometimes, you can get caught out not taking a step back - sometimes an injury forces you to."

Queensland-born Beale knows there will be nerves when he gets back out on the field, but he expects those to vanish quickly.

"I'm looking forward to it. I'll be nervous, but once I can get that first tackle and first run out of the way, I'll feel right at home."

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