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‘Hungry to compete’: The injury that nearly ended Maori All Black’s career

By Finn Morton
Tom Franklin of Taranaki charges forward during the round seven Bunnings Warehouse NPC match between Otago and Taranaki at Forsyth Barr Stadium, on September 16, 2023, in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

For all the satisfaction, thrills and sense of accomplishment that professional sport can offer, there’s another side to that very same coin. As much as athletes love to chase their goals and hone their craft, the gruelling pursuit of excellence can take a toll on an athlete’s body.

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Former Maori All Blacks lock Tom Franklin has made the most of his rugby career. The New Zealander won a Super Rugby title with the Highlanders in 2015, was twice called into All Blacks camps, won a provincial title with Taranaki and has seen the world.

But amongst all the highs, the lows were tough. After leaving New Zealand’s shores in 2019 to pursue an opportunity with Kobe Steelers in Japan, Franklin picked up an injury.

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Franklin, who played multiple matches for the Maori All Blacks, was plagued by a degenerative disc in his back which led the towering second-rower to take a year off from the sport. It was amongst all that pain and hurt that Franklin thought about walking away into retirement.

“Pretty serious for sure. I didn’t think I’d be able to play again,” Franklin told RugbyPass when asked about the thoughts of retiring.

“Every day I couldn’t sleep at night and walking around I couldn’t stand up straight… this is no good. You learn a lot about your body.

“I was looking for solutions and talking to people, working with people and trying different options, and found out how to take care of my body better and do what I need to do to get it into a good place.

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“I’m stoked to be able to get back to playing. I’m grateful.”

Franklin was down but not out. The lock was “still hungry to compete” at the professional level and ended up returning to the sport – and he’s still playing to this day.

Another opportunity in the United States of America saw the Kiwi run out for San Diego Legion in Major League Rugby before returning to New Zealand with Taranaki.

But Franklin will wear new colours once again in 2024 after signing for the Perth-based Force on Australia’s west coast.

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So, after fending off retirement some years ago, another chance to see the world through rugby presented itself and Franklin couldn’t say no.

“There were options. A few other things popped up,” Franklin said.

“I’ve always been one for rugby to take me around the world and give me so much opportunity to live in new places and meet new people and just experience different parts of life.

“I’ve sort of always embraced that side of it and loved it, so the opportunity to come to Perth, never lived in Australia, never spent too much time on the west coast.

“It’s a new opportunity and it’s something I’ll look back on in life and be like, ‘Man, I was fortunate to be able to come over and do that.’

“That was the turning point, and obviously being in a team which is young and has a lot of flair and big aspirations was cool as well.

“I love the underdog story of getting up on the big teams and punching above our weight so I’m sure we’re gonna surprise a lot of teams this year.”

Of the four teams that didn’t make the Super Rugby Pacific playoffs last season, two of them were Australian. Joining the Melbourne Rebels in the bottom four were the Western Force.

But who doesn’t love an underdog?

Franklin is supremely confident that this year can be different story for the Force. Wallabies Ben Donaldson and Nic White are among the new recruits, as is an ex-Crusaders Super Rugby winner Ben Funnell.

With a wealth of promising young talent in the squad, too, the Force are “hungry” to surprise a few teams during the upcoming campaign.

“We know we can compete with anyone. We’ve been working hard and we know if we put our right foot forward, we can compete with anyone.

“No desire to back down to anyone, we’re gonna come full throttle.

“The boys are ready to rip in. It’s been a long pre-season…. they’re hungry and the boys are ready to go.”

The Western Force will get their 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season underway on Friday night when they host the Hurricanes at Perth’s HBF Park.

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