JUST as the 2020 rugby league season was shaping up to be Warilla-Lake South product Jesse Dee's best yet, his campaign was derailed in more ways than one.
After a strong season with West Tigers Mackay, Dee had decided to return to the Mackay Cutters and play in the Intrust Super Cup.
"I was missed playing that footy at that level [in 2019] and when the Mackay Cutters coach Michael Crawley called me and told me he wants me to play for them, I jumped at the chance - after securing a job in town," Dee said.
The Cutters are the side the Group Seven junior first played for when he moved to Queensland in 2018.
"During my first season with the Cutters, I found it difficult to juggle working in the mines and playing footy," he said.
"Don't get me wrong, I loved playing in the Queensland Cup - which included a trip to Papua New Guinea with the Cutters and for the Queensland Rangers.
"But I probably lost my way a little - made worse by a couple of nagging injuries."
As such, Dee went back and played a season with the Tigers, alongside fellow South Coast talents Harold Snell and Sam Clune.
"Playing with the Tigers allowed me to mature as a footballer and get that balance right," he said.
So when Dee started pre-season with the Cutters, he was ready to give his all.
"The pre-season was extremely tough - we had strength and conditioning coach Tim Rodgers, who's worked with Melbourne and Newcastle, put us through our paces," Dee said.
"It was great to see how the NRL systems train and get our bodies fully prepared for the rigorous season ahead.
"I felt I was in the best condition coming into a season I'd ever been in, both physically and mentally."
But before the season even kicked-off, disaster struck for Dee in the team's second trial match against the Rockhampton Capras.
"I was making a tackle on the kick-off and made solid contact with the guy with the ball," Dee said.
"At first, I thought I just had a big cork in my arm.
"But after 50 minutes, the pain got too much and my bicep went to jelly - it was a sensation that I'd never felt before."
After coming from the field, the team physiotherapist quickly advised Dee he had ruptured his bicep.
"When the doctor told me the diagnosis, I was filthy and gutted, as I was really looking forward to a big season with the Cutters," he said.
"He [the physiotherapist] said I'd be out for up to four months."
One week after the incident, Dee went under the knife and had surgery, before moving back to the South Coast to start his rehabilitation.
"I'm back with mum and dad for six weeks, as I can't move my right arm at all," the 25-year-old said.
"After that, I'll return to Mackay and start strength work with the Cutters physiotherapist.
"If all goes to plan, I hope to back to full strength in that 12 to 16 week mark."
Since the injury though, the Queensland Rugby League Board decided to cancel all four of its statewide competitions, due to the coronavirus.
"After the big pre-season, the board's decision was very disappointing and left the whole club shattered," he said.
"We felt we had put in the work and deserved the chance to play but I'm sure every club will be feeling that way.
"I was also looking forward to coming back halfway threw the season.
"At the end of the day though, the right decision was probably made - the health of everyone, not just in rugby league but the entire globe is the main priority.
"We will now start to focus on 2021."
Dee also intends to make the most of this extended break.
"I'm going to be super methodical with my rehabilitation and make sure I do everything I can to make next season my best yet," he said.
"You don't realise how much you miss the sport until it's taken away from you.
"I want to reward the Cutters' faith in me with an injury-free season.
"If I do that, there's no reason why I can't push on and play higher honours both here in Australia and in the United Kingdom (where he's eligible to play with an English passport."