Group 20 rugby league
HE was told 18 months ago he'd never play rugby league again - but on Friday night, Tullibigeal-Lakes United young gun Dylan Hately will complete an inspirational comeback at the West Wyalong Knockout.
Hately will play his first game since going down with a horrific knee injury in August 2012 as the defending Group 20 premiers begin their pre-season campaign against the Cowra Magpies.
The teenage halfback's burgeoning career appeared over when he hyper-extended his knee, requiring a complete reconstruction as well as complicated and costly neurological surgery to repair a damaged nerve.
Cruelly, the injury occurred the very same morning he was told he would be picked up by NRL club St George-Illawarra.
It's been a long road back for Hately, who spent most of 2013 running drinks for the premiership-winning Sharks, but captain-coach Brent Pike knows the youngster has had enough of cheering on from the bench.
"At this stage I don't know if he's stoked or nervous," he said.
"I know I'm a bit nervous about him coming back and playing, but he's sharp as at training.
"He's just going to strap it up - he straps it every training run, wears a special brace and he's ready to go.
"He's done all the pre-season and is kicking them as good as he ever has. Hopefully he can get through this year unscathed and get back up there with the Dragons."
Hately is part of a strong 17-man Sharks squad for the tournament and will likely be eased into competitive action against Cowra.
Pike said TLU was aiming to make it a fairytale return for Hately by backing up their grand final win over Leeton with the West Wyalong Knockout trophy.
Michael Mogliotti is also back for Lakes after shelving his retirement plans, while new signings Matt Pike and Chris Jordan will also play a part.
Last year's best and fairest Jarrod Cahill and Dean Hague will definitely miss out, while Nate Morris will be unavailable for Saturday's finals.
TLU's only major losses from last year are winger Troy Barby and five-eighth Matt Toole.
"The boys are a bit sore from training but still keen," Pike said.
"We've been giving the boys a fair touch-up to keep them honest.
"You don't want to go into this year too relaxed on the back of a premiership. We want to try and avoid the hangover and build on it instead."