Amazing comeback: Seb’s inspiring two-year recovery
STRANDED for two years unable to play a sport you love is enough to make most people look for other pursuits.
But not inspirational Ipswich Jets rugby league forward Seb Pandia.
Despite some uncertain times and people looking to write him off, Pandia never gave up hope of returning to the Intrust Super Cup competition.
Preparing for his third match after making an incredible comeback, Pandia shared how difficult it was being sidelined for so long and what motivated him to again pull on his beloved Jets jersey.
"It was one of the biggest challenges I've ever faced in my life,'' the powerhouse forward said.
Having joined the Jets in 2016 after playing for the PNG Hunters, Pandia became a regular force in the state league team coached by Walker brothers Ben and Shane.
However, a fateful day in 2018 against the Blackhawks in Townsville suddenly tested Pandia's commitment and mental strength.
He needed a full right knee construction after suffering the nasty injury making a tackle during the round 18 match that season.
"It was just five games before the finals and I did my ACL,'' he said.
But it wasn't only the long recovery road ahead that left one of the Jets best players that year in a world of pain.
The 2018 Allan Langer Medal runner-up had to delay his operation to continue working for a time.
"It was way tougher (than expected) trying to sort out my knee,'' said Pandia, who turns 31 in October.
"When you injure yourself, you have to fend for yourself.''
Despite that massive hurdle, the labourer was determined to play footy again.
As a tribute to his remarkable attitude, Jets head coach Keiron Lander injected Pandia into his comeback match against the Brisbane Tigers on April 17.
"It was a lot anxiety leading up to it,'' Pandia said of his return.
"Two years and nine months is a long time to wait.''
But even then it wasn't a smooth reintroduction to state league football. He got on for 28 minutes in the second half on a rainy night at the North Ipswich Reserve.
"It wasn't much because the day before the game I had to go and work on Saturday,'' Pandia said.
"I went and worked, finished around 2pm, rocked up here (North Ipswich), didn't warm-up or anything.''
Lander gave Pandia time to ease back in after his early hurried start having to work that day.
"I was sitting on the bench and started yawning,'' Pandia said.
"But I told myself to stay calm . . . and then after halftime, I thought I was going to be thrown in but I had to wait another 10 minutes.
"It was a good thing because we had a bit of a shower.''
He finally got to return to the field, with Jets teammates monitoring on his progress.
"My first few touches and after the game, everyone came up to me and asked how I was feeling, how was my knee,'' he said.
"It was like clockwork. All the hard work was done.
"During the two years, I've been working really hard to come back and I didn't feel a thing. It was sort of like I never left the game.''
Pandia played on the team's edge for 60 minutes in his second game back, sharing in the Jets first win of the season - 40-24 over the Central Queensland Capras on April 24.
He appreciated Lander showing faith in him after what he endured.
"I'm putting in the work here and I want to come back,'' he said.
"I was not only telling everybody but I was telling myself: 'Don't give up, don't give in to anything'.''
As for what he missed most being out of the game for such a long time, Pandia answered: "Just being around the boys''.
"As an athlete, you are more used to coming up and playing,'' the PNG-bred footballer said.
"You sort of like build up during the week then come game day, you want to get a result. And that wasn't working for me (during the two-year recovery).
"When that got taken away from me, I had nothing to fill in so there were times where I would sit at home and look at the ceiling and bang my head against the wall, 'what am I going to do'?''
Pandia is in line to play his 62nd game for the Jets in the latest Intrust Super Cup match against the Tweed Seagulls at the North Ipswich Reserve on Saturday.
Wearing his flash new white boots and with a lush beard, Pandia will seize another opportunity with a sense of pride.
He was lured to the Jets in 2016, a year after his younger brother Richie shared in the Jets historic premiership double, winning finals in Brisbane and Sydney.
The brothers continue to share a strong bond, still playing together this season with the Jets.
Seb even helped Richie fund his studies when he earlier arrived in Australia.
As a former PNG Hunters player, Seb said it took some time to get used the Jets style of footy promoted by the Walker brothers.
But every game he plays now is a credit to his well power and self belief.
"I'm just happy to be back,'' Pandia said, having started his career at five-eight before switching to lock and an forward-enforcer's role.
"Being away from the footy, I so believed in the positives I was in - like mental fortitude and not giving in.
"I was doing all the training and exercise and it sort of paid off.''
Saturday at North Ipswich is also the Jets Family Fun Day, backed by the Queensland Law Group.
A host of activities are planned at the Jets training fields from 11am-2pm.
Gates open for the matches at the North Ipswich Reserve at 2pm with the main game at 5pm.