Statham back from injury to bolster Dragons' playoff dreams

Matt Jones 00:18 14/02/2017
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Niall Statham.

He doesn’t scream or cajole, he’s not a muscle-bound freak who lives in the gym, you’re unlikely to see him scoring a lung-busting length of the field try – but both Henry Paul and Apollo Perelini will have been delighted by Niall Statham’s return to the rugby field last weekend.

The Jebel Ali Dragons and UAE flanker made his 2016/17 season bow in Dragons’ 25-22 West Asia Premiership defeat to Doha at The Sevens, having not played since tearing ankle ligaments in the UAE’s successful Asia Rugby Championship in Uzbekistan last May.

On his return to the team, the wiry and unassuming Scotsman played like he’d never been away at all.

Tenacious in the tackle, an able ball carrier and a key component in linking Dragons’ imposing forwards to their rampant backs, the 31-year-old enjoyed an impressive first outing of the season, the one thing missing a Dragons victory.

But, now that he is back in the fold, he will be hoping to bolster Jebel Ali’s push for the West Asia and UAE Premiership playoffs as well as aiming for a return to the international arena.

“The original injury was torn ligaments in my ankle which was in the Test against Uzbekistan. Although we won that promotion I just never felt like I did all I wanted to do,” said the 6ft 1” Statham, who had been contemplating hanging up his boots last summer prior to injury with a wife and two young daughters at home.

“The injury led to a lot of issues with my lower back and hips so it sidelined me for six months which was pretty miserable, and in that time Henry Paul arrived at the club and there was a great vibe around it. All those factors combined really made me desperate to get back into it.”

In his early thirties now and with the standard of UAE rugby, both internationally and domestically, improving every year, the Edinburgh-born forward realises he has a finite time remaining in his playing career – although he’s clearly not ready to let go just yet.

“The recovery wasn’t great at first,” he admitted.

“At 31 the fitness was a lot slower coming back than previously, but a condition I set myself to play again was that I had to be in better shape than before. I managed to play Dubai 7s with Dragons.”

Statham had been waiting patiently for a return to the team, with a lot having changed at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence since former league and union star Paul’s arrival in the summer.

A combination of illness and postponed games kept him waiting a little longer, but having got his first 80 minutes under his belt, he can’t wait to make up for lost time.

He added: “I’m desperate to play now. Having missed part of the season I have a lot of work to do to hopefully prove I’m worthy of being called up to the UAE again, there’s a lot of great players coming through now (with the three-year residency) qualification.

“Henry Paul has been a big help in getting my confidence back and learning from him has been brilliant. All being well hopefully I can boost the club towards the playoffs.”

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