SHARKS winger Luke Covell yesterday became the first NRL player in history to undergo the radical knee surgery performed on Swans player Nick Malceski in a bid to salvage his career.
After rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in his side's 11-0 win over Parramatta, Covell's season was in tatters and his career uncertain.
He is unsigned beyond this year.
After telling Sharks medicos he had "nothing to lose", the 28-year-old underwent the revolutionary ligament augmentation and reconstructive system (LARS) operation at St Vincent's Hospital.
If the operation is as successful for Covell as it was for Malceski, he could be playing again within 12 weeks - slashing his recovery time by nine months.
"When he had the scans and found out he'd done his ACL, he said to us 'I've got nothing to lose'," Sharks physio Konrad Schultz said last night.
"He wanted to get back on the field by the end of the season. We discussed the options and he was hungry to do it."
The procedure - performed by leading Sydney orthopaedic surgeon Craig Waller - involves two industrial-strength synthetic fibres being inserted into his knee to act as his ACL ligament.
Groundbreaking French surgeon JP Laboreau performed the same surgery on Malceski after he ruptured his ACL during the 2008 pre-season.
Three weeks later he was riding a stationary bike and running a week later - something that would normally have taken 12 to 16 weeks.
Malceski returned to the field three months after suffering the injury, much to the amazement of the AFL world. So successful was it for Malceski, it became known as the "Malceski op".
Port Adelaide midfielder David Rodan had LARS surgery in December and resumed playing late last month.
That said, the procedure remains untested in the NRL with Waller adding extra fibre to strengthen Covell's knee.
There is also the risk that the synthetic fibre could cause infection if the knee rejects it, and the long-term side-effects of the procedure remain unknown.
The radical surgery marks a bold attempt from the veteran goalkicker to play on.
Covell, who could not be contacted last night as he recovered from surgery, is off-contract and remains unsigned.
"He wants to keep playing and didn't want injury to end his career," his manager, Steve Gillis, said.
"He wants to play for another two or three seasons and hopefully the Sharks will show him some loyalty, or other clubs will show some interest."
I think every rugby league official/doc/player will be watching this and taken notes. If it is successful it will be a huge thing for many