By Chris Kennedy (NRL.com)
Dragons fullback Josh Dugan says he is recovering as fast as could be expected just two weeks after a much-needed operation to shave down two vertebrae in his neck.
The 25-year-old said the injury was more annoying than anything in 2015, rather than something that hampered his performances, but could have gotten significantly worse without intervention.
The Blues player of the year also noted a torn adductor muscle in golden point in his side's elimination final loss to Canterbury had taken some time to get over as well, but he is now on track to resume full training after Christmas.
"It (the neck) is actually better than I expected," Dugan said on Friday.
"'Mary' (Dragons coach Paul McGregor) actually had the same surgery earlier on in the year, he was telling me how bad it was... it might be just because I'm a bit younger but I'm feeling pretty good.
"Two weeks post-op now so I'll start training again next week and just getting right into rehab and just doing all the stuff I can to make sure I'm back 100 per cent after Christmas."
The procedure involved shaving down two of the vertebrae in Dugan's neck to allow the nerves to get through properly after repeated incidents or 'burners' where impacts caused widespread tingling and numbness in his fingers that could last for weeks afterwards.
"Three of my vertebrae were jammed up pushing on the disc and the nerves were getting jammed up as well so they've cleared a path for the nerves to get through cleanly on the two vertebrae," he said.
"I can already feel the difference. I had a constant ache in my neck and shoulder all year this year. It just got to the point where it was just starting to get a bit unbearable. I didn't want to go through next year the same way I did this year and it probably could have got worse.
"Speaking to the neurosurgeon as well I'm glad I had surgery because he's talking future, if I'd let it go any longer it could have needed a disc replacement, that sort of thing. We got on top of it early and that's the main thing."
Dugan said the injury didn't directly detract from his performances throughout a year he describes as his best – and which saw him make his Test debut on the wing in the May Trans-Tasman Test while also being named the NSW player of the year for a stellar series replacing Jarryd Hayne at fullback.
However it was something that was constantly there.
"It was more annoying than anything. It was hurting me at times but it was just annoying, I'd get a knock and lose all feeling in my shoulder then for weeks after I'd still have numbness in my fingers," he said.
"It wasn't as simple as just getting a needle or strapping, it was something I had to deal with at the time and now that we're on top of it hopefully it comes good.
"I'll be training next week in the altitude room and that sort of thing, trying to get as much fitness and strength back as I can before Christmas then after Christmas back into contact, back into everything. I'll be looking to get as fit and ready as I can for the trials."
Neck injury notwithstanding, Dugan said 2015 was both his best and his hardest year in his career to date.
"It was probably the most physical toll [a season] took on my in my career so far. I played the whole series of Origin, I played the [Trans-Tasman] Test as well so those four extra games really do add up towards the back end of the year and I was feeling it a bit.
"Playing those three Origins and the Anzac Test, it warrants me saying it was my best year and all I can do now is do what I can before Christmas, get back after Christmas and do everything I can to continue that form and even better it."