It was hardly the painless return an injury-cursed Micheal Luck had hoped for as he made his first appearance in the NRL since last October's Grand Final loss to Manly.
Less than 25 minutes after making an understated entrance onto a damp Toyota Stadium last night he was limping back towards the New Zealand Warriors bench where he watched the Cronulla Sharks surge to a 20-19 victory on the back of a quick-fire brace by halfback Jeff Robson.
One of the Warriors toughest defenders during his 145-match career in Auckland, Luck sat helpless with his knee iced as the Sharks protected their top eight status with a stirring comeback inside the last 12 minutes.
Luck's resurgence after an eight month lay-off thanks to shoulder, wrist and finger surgeries was obviously not as impressive but the 30-year-old, who retires at the end of the season, still derived a degree of satisfaction by simply getting on the field.
"I'm over the moon the get back on the field with the boys. It's just a relief to be able to get back and play again," he said.
"I'm looking forward to playing many more games this season."
The ninth-placed Warriors have 10 matches remaining in the regular season and encouragingly Luck's latest injury should not prevent him featuring more prominently.
"It's the same knee I dislocated last year. I just felt it crunch around a bit," the back rower shrugged.
He is expected to be available for the Warriors next game against North Queensland in Auckland on July 1, a bye round gives him extra time to recover though Luck quipped another week off was hardly on his wish list given his prolonged inactivity.
Luck was understandably rusty when Brian McClennan introduced the 221-game veteran in the 31st minute.
"It took a while to get a bit of direction. I was pretty lucky while I was out there, we had a fair bit of ball so I suppose that made it a bit easier," he said.
However, the momentum changed once he joined Ben Matulino (sternum) on the sidelines in the third quarter as the Sharks reeled in a 19-8 deficit through Robson's pace and footwork plus a crucial 40-20 by halves partner Todd Carney.
The NSW five-eighth's superb punt put the Sharks set the scene for the match-winning play and Robson did not disappoint when he skipped over following the close range scrum supplied by Carney.
"You've got to give them credit, they did some pretty good things, they've got a good forward pack that rumbled forward well, they've got smart halves," Luck said.
"They're not where they are on the ladder [fifth] for no reason."
Luck made six runs for 45-metres, eight tackles and one error. He also conceded a penalty on the stroke of halftime when the Warriors were in possession and he was pinged for obstruction at the play the ball.
"Have you seen the last time one of them was given? But it's a rule, you've got to wear that. It's my fault. In the end that's probably the difference regardless of what happens in the last 10 minutes."
Carney converted the penalty to bridge the gap to 13-8 at halftime and although Konrad Hurrell barrelled over 11 minutes after the restart and James Maloney added another two points for a Sharks indiscretion it was not enough as the home side hit the front with nine minutes remaining.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan was rapt his side's resilience and ruthlessness on the home stretch but was not as enamoured with the officiating of Ashley Klein and Steve Lyons who he accused of missing several Warriors errors as the round 15 contest went down to wire.
"If James Maloney from the kick-off is not a knock-on I'll give it away, if the drop out is not a knock on ... they're just blatant errors.
"The chip kick, that ball went forward. I know they're doing their best and they're trying hard but there were four clangers and all went against us.
"And if they went the Warriors way I'd be talking about them as well. It made it really tough for us to get over the line," he said.
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