Tommy Makinson has revealed he feared his career could be over after seeing 18 months wrecked by injury.
The St Helens winger’s 2015 was ended by a broken ankle in June, and then just nine games into the following season, he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
He had a more consistent run last year but admits his performances fell below his own standards.
Now Makinson, 26, is the form winger in the competition and is being tipped for an England spot against New Zealand in Denver next month.
He said: “First I broke my ankle and then I did my knee – and there’s people that have had that knee injury who’ll tell you, there’s dark places.
“This is a great sport, you’re in the public eye and getting paid for something you love – but when that’s taken away from you it’s painful.
“There were times that I thought ‘maybe I’ve had my time now’.
“I’d won things, been playing well and in contention for international honours, and I thought that might be it.
“But I’m thankful every day now that it’s still going, and I’m still young so just look forward to the future now.
“In terms of how I’m feeling, the shape I’m in and the form, it’s the best I’ve ever felt.
“I go into every game confident, and a lot of that’s down to the work of staff and Justin Holbrook.”
Makinson is already in Wayne Bennett’s senior England training squad ahead of the Kiwi test and will be pushing World Cup wingers Ryan Hall and Jermaine McGillvary for their places.
Makinson has been among several Saints beneficiaries of Ben Barba’s sparkling performances – and says the full-back is unlike anyone he’s played with.
Ahead of Saturday’s clash with Widnes in Newcastle, Makinson added: “He’s fantastic.
“On the pitch he’s an absolute freak – events like Magic Weekend are made for people to come and watch him play rugby – and he’s a great bloke off it.
“He’s different to anyone I’ve played with before – he does things you don’t really see other people do.”
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