Aaron Booth is again calling upon his reserves of courage, patience and single-mindedness as the Wynnum Manly halfback squares up to yet another bout of misfortune and time out of the game.
Booth has been forced to the sidelines this season with a bad back – the latest in a litany of physical – and emotional – obstacles thrown in his way on the journey from Murwillumbah in northern NSW to the Intrust Super Cup.
The string of setbacks began in 2015 when, as a 19-year-old living away from home for the first time and chasing his boyhood rugby league dream in Newcastle, he tore a quadriceps leg muscle.
“It was very hard being away from home that first time. I was definitely too young and immature in hindsight.
“There were plenty of long, lonely nights,” Booth said.
He returned home to play bush footy, only to tear his other quad. Booth endured a long seven weeks on the sideline as the thigh muscle healed enough for him to re-join his Murwillumbah Mustangs teammates.
And then some good luck. Jon Buchanan, now coaching Souths Logan but then at Wynnum Manly Seagulls, liked to keep an eye on the Tweed Heads competition where the Mustangs ran. Buchanan’s uncle lived in Murwillumbah and suggested he take a look at Booth.
The Cup coach liked what he saw and so Booth packed his belongings and again left the rolling hills above Byron Bay to follow his ambition.
“Like any young kid, the dream was to play first grade NRL. I didn’t necessarily want to be a Cup player, I saw it as a stepping stone. The sooner you get to Cup the sooner you could move on to the next level.”
Season 2016 had its share of good moments, including his Intrust Super Cup debut as a 19-year-old (in Round 13 against the Sunshine Coast Falcons), and guiding the Gulls to victory in a FOGS Colts Challenge grand final.
However, this is the Aaron Booth story so there have to be hardships to endure. Mid-year, he developed a stress fracture in his back – but gritted his teeth and battled on. As he did when his long-term relationship ended.
Then, as he sat in the sheds after leading the FOGS Colts to a major semi-final victory and a place in the grand final, he was told that former Mustangs teammate Grant Cook had died from injuries sustained on the field. The news hit him hard.
Despite these blows, Booth finished the year on a high, producing a man-of-the-match performance that included scoring two tries, setting up two others and kicking three goals as he helped Wynnum Manly to premiership glory.
Early in 2017, however, the stress fracture flared again, keeping him out of football till Round 6. When he recovered and returned it was only for four matches because in Round 10 he hurt his Lisfranc joint, and the foot injury ended his season.
READY TO QUIT
After a run of such rotten luck, things had come to a head and Booth sat in his Wynnum apartment, bags packed, ready to move home to Murwillumbah.
But his never-surrender attitude wrestled back control. He dug deep and found still more reservoirs of resolve. He was determined not to be just another country footballer who moved to the city only to beat a retreat home with stories of ‘what could have been’.
“I didn’t want to die wondering, to get to age 30 and wonder what could have been.
“I’m determined to give this everything.”
“I really had no option but to fight, there was no option other than to succeed.
“It’s a cliché but football is all I’ve known. I’m not very gifted academically, this is all I can do.
“I have no other option but to succeed.”
FIT AND READY
It helped that Booth’s time in Cup had convinced him that he belonged at that level. So, he called once more on his prodigious grit, and knuckled down to his rehabilitation with a determination to make 2018 his year.
As preseason 2018 came to an end he was fit, healthy and raring to go. He started the year in the Brisbane Rugby League competition.
The Wynnum Manly Intrust Super Cup side, meanwhile, started their season with three losses and, in Round 4, he received the call-up and led them to their first victory of the year.
In Round 6, the seemingly inevitable happened – another injury. This time not one, but two stress fractures in the back, either side of his L5 disk.
The specialist’s prognosis – there was nothing that could be done via intervention, it was simply a matter of rest and letting the fractures heal.
“The hardest thing about the injury now and the long recovery is the doubt. Will I fit back into the Wynnum team? Would any other teams even look at me?”
STANDING BY A MATE
Booth credits the Seagulls and in particular “his second-rower”, Til Vea, with keeping him in a healthy place mentally as he takes the long, lonely walk through rehab again.
“Til protected me on the field and he’s there for me now too. He texts me every day or so, just asking how I am and making sure I’m doing OK,” Booth said.
When Booth runs out for the Seagulls next season, the one thing he and his teammates will know for sure – there is not a player in the Intrust Super Cup who wants to be there more.