‘I’m scared here’: Tim Browne chooses quality of life over NRL career
For many fans, once a player is injured their first thoughts are the impact of their absence on the rest of the team and how they will cope in weeks to come.
It becomes a case of out of sight, out of mind — yet, many of us forget the tough road the injured athletes face getting back, especially the mental battle that comes with suddenly becoming an outsider.
Former Canterbury and Penrith prop Tim Browne, a veteran of 103 NRL matches, retired two weeks ago, after a string of serious injuries saw him choose quality of life instead of prolonging his football career.
Browne confessed he had found it tough to transition back to regular life.
"You work so hard competing everyday with each other and you've always got someone pushing for your spot, so there's not a day that you can clock off," he told Grandstand.
"We'd only just finished preseason really, it was round two when I did it so you go from being in the best shape you've ever been to doing nothing."
As far as luck goes, Browne has not been gifted much, having suffered three brutal injuries in an eight-year first grade career.
At the Bulldogs, he fractured his skull and separately suffered a leg infection that almost led to amputation.
Playing for the Panthers in their second-tier competition earlier this season, he was dealt another blow when he was brought from the field, thought to be winded.
But Browne quickly realised there was something a lot more serious at play.
"When I went down the tunnel, I hit the deck and didn't even make it to the shed. I was … spewing my guts up with blood going everywhere," he said.
"I said to my wife, 'Get me to the hospital I'm scared here' … everyone thought it was my spleen at the time and that took a hit too, but it wasn't the case."
Closer examination revealed horrific internal damage to his intestine, spleen and kidneys, with a high risk of infection.
Spending more than a week in hospital, with a few days in intensive care, doctors had to remove part of his bowel.
Faced with a long recovery, Browne said he had actually made his decision to retire much sooner than that.
"I said to Ellie when we were getting rushed up on the hospital bed, 'No more'. I can't. I've got a little girl now and too much life to live," he said.
"It's tough. I'm lucky I've got a good support base at home, with the beautiful wife I've got."
However, the couple will really miss the community they became a part of through the NRL.
"We spent a lot of time at the Bulldogs, we had six years there and we've spoken about how we didn't realise how good that was until we'd hit the exit button," Browne said.
"Now we're not in footy. This is only my second year out here [at Penrith] so I'm really new. We'll miss the game."
Browne facing 'uncertain' recovery period
For now, Browne is focused on recovery and pursing a different career path.
"The surgeon had never even done an operation like this before," he said.
"So in terms of a blueprint to go off with recovery, they're very uncertain.
"Now that we've announced my retirement, we've been very slow in the process of getting back into some training and I'm not allowed to do any sort of weights or heavy lifting, so just some sort of cardio and progress from that."
Browne has taken on a new role in the Panthers media department and is eager to stay connected.
"I find it hard to go cold turkey and walk away completely, because you grow up playing it your whole life and it's something you love," he said.
"I want to stay around the team and the boys and hopefully I can find a role in the media."
With so much quiet time on his hands, Browne has had a chance to look back on all he has achieved in the NRL.
This reflection has enforced how much he enjoys the rugby league academy he began on the side last November, and looks forward to helping the younger generation with a huge goal in mind.
"I'm happy enough to say I got to make my debut and walk away having played 100 NRL games," he said.
"I look forward to helping as many young kids as I can like myself, that come outside a program or rep system.
"I want to see someone come through my program and make their NRL debut one day."