Earl makes comeback via Falcons, after almost five years out
RUGBY LEAGUE: Sandor Earl made a low-key but serviceable return to rugby league on Saturday night after almost five years out of the game.
The 28-year-old produced a solid performance for Melbourne Storm's feeder team Sunshine Coast Falcons in their 14-8 win over Souths Logan at Kawana.
After serving a four-year ban for using and trafficking performance-enhancing drugs and suffering an ACL injury, he came off the bench to savour 41 valuable minutes in the centres during the Queensland Cup round 14 encounter.
He carried the ball with purpose, made a couple of tackles and produced a neat step and offload to create a crucial try.
"I was probably a bit erratic but it was pretty exciting with just my first run and my first tackle and now I can calm down,” he said.
"I've never been so into a game. I was pumped. I'm just stoked to be back playing.”
He'll likely get more game time in coming weeks.
"I'm just looking to build on that, contribute (to the Falcons) and hopefully work my way up to contributing with the Storm,” he said.
He was understandably anxious in the lead-up to the match.
"I haven't felt those nerves in a long time.”
"I felt a bit sick but just to get everything done for the first time...”
Falcons coach Craig Ingebrigtsen said the outing was a stepping stone for Earl.
"That was his first game in five years so we knew what we were going to get,” he said.
"We knew we weren't going to get the Sandor Earl who played about 50 NRL games. We were going to get Sandor Earl who's just starting his career again.
"He's tremendous around the players. He brought into all our video sessions and into the way we want to play.”
Ingebrigtsen expects Earl could get 60 minutes of action next week. And Earl said he's eager to do his bit for the state league side.
"I've played my fair share of reserve grade (in the past) and they're all passionate (players),” he said.
"They all love their footy and I just want to get amongst it and do as well as I can for the Falcons and get some more wins.”
The Storm signed Earl in October after he completed a four-year backdated ban - handed out in 2015 while he was at Penrith in 2011.
But his comeback was stalled when he sustained an ACL tear at training in November.
"I definitely wasn't expecting that,” he said.
"I'd worked my arse off just to get back for pre-season and I was building on something really well.
"But (I got) so much support from the club and I'm really proud to get back on the field after seven months and I'm stoked to get that game in (last night) and now it's just time to keep working hard and to build on that now.”
Storm football manager Frank Ponissi said on Friday there was a slim possibility Earl could feature for the team this season.
"It would be a challenge but it's a challenge where if anyone is capable of doing it, it's Sandor,” he said.
But he expected it could take Earl "a little while” to get to grips with timing, tackling and ball skills.
"It's been five years he's played and people forget that.”
Earl made his NRL debut for the Roosters in 2009 but linked with the Panthers for the next three years before joining the Raiders, where he scored 17 tries in 29 games during 2012-2013.
But he was suspended and issued an infraction notice in August, 2013.
Earl is unsigned for next season but Ponissi said they're eager to retain his services