Stephen Hoiles returns from rugby's wilderness
January 7, 2014
Stephen Hoiles has not played Super Rugby since 2010 © Getty Images
Stephen Hoiles has endured quite the journey trying to revive his Super Rugby career, the 32-year-old back-rower venturing to Sweden and back hoping last-ditch surgery on his troublesome Achilles tendon could get him back on the paddock for the first time since 2010.
"My father and I flew over," Hoiles said. "We had about 11 flights in 11 days. It was like a massive trek to get there and then I was back out of there about five days later."
But the gamble paid off, with Hoiles making two appearances for Randwick in Sydney's Shute Shield club premiership competition last August to earn a training contract with New South Wales Waratahs.
Painstaking research, doctors and former coaches pointed him to Dr Hakan Alfredson, whom Hoiles hailed as "if not the best, then one of the best tendon surgeons in the world".
"He just deals with chronic cases or people who are a little bit left of centre."
Hoiles was definitely that, if not at his wits' end after being frustrated by an injury that started as a "stiff foot" from double training loads with the Brumbies and the Wallabies midway through 2010. He was scheduled to spend 12 weeks on the sidelines after clean-up surgery at the end of that season, but he's been in the wilderness since. Apart from the emotional toll taken on Hoiles, who couldn't even chase his two young children on the beach without pulling up sore, the former Brumbies captain has also lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost earnings.
"I had to leave Canberra because of it, because I had another year left on my contract and Jake White wasn't really happy coming into the side with the captain potentially not going to play for the whole year," he said.
Hoiles emailed Dr Alfredson in January 2013, after two unsuccessful six-month rehabilitation programs at the Australian Institute of Sport, and he was on a flight two weeks later for surgery.
"I was either going to go over there and he'd tell me that it's unrepairable and that I'm done, or he'd be able to fix it," Hoiles said. "So either way, it was going to be closure. If it was no good, I could accept that. I'd have given it every shot."
Dr Alfredson asked Hoiles to run on the spot to aggravate the injury before taking an ultrasound image that identified a loose bone fragment in the injured foot.
"Then he split me down the back of my heel, opened me up and cleaned it up while I was awake," Hoiles said. "It was probably a two-hour operation but, after pretty much two-and-a-half, three, years of utter frustration because of it, it's all sorted now."
Hoiles has completed 10 weeks of intense off-season training with the Waratahs without once needing Achilles treatment. His only focus now is on the Waratahs' February 1 trial against Melbourne Rebels in Albury.
"There's been no guarantees, no promises," he said. "I don't know where it's going to lead me footy-wise. I've got to work pretty hard to try and get an opportunity to play here because there's a lot of guys in front of me. But I still believe that the years I missed may be a bit of a blessing for me. I still feel like I've got a couple of good years in me at least."