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Tears to triumph: Liddle's 12-month bid to keep Tigers dream alive

A little over 12 months ago, Josh Reynolds comforted a devastated Jacob Liddle in the Brookvale Oval sheds.

Liddle's first game in the Wests Tigers No.9 – one he had been sized up for since his late teens – had lasted all of nine minutes before his ACL, MCL and PCL all went to pieces.

Another year on the sidelines. Another three months in a leg brace.

Another year of uncertainty after two previous season-ending shoulder reconstructions.

Last Sunday, the Tigers are trailing last-placed Canterbury by a converted try, having coughed up a 22-6 lead.

Wests Tigers v Roosters - Round 15

Reynolds and Liddle cross paths again with nine minutes left on the clock, coach Michael Maguire putting his faith in Liddle and that left knee.

"I saw an opportunity there to get Josh Reynolds on and another one to get Liddsy back out there because he was steering the team around well," Maguire told NRL.com this week.

"We saw that at the back end of the game when he did that to get the field goal. He had us in the right position.

"He passed back to Brooksy [halfback Luke Brooks] to knock that field goal over.

"And you need a smart No.9 and smart halves to be able to drive your set to where you need to, otherwise you're not going to get the opportunity to take the kick properly.

"Everything Lidds has been through, the mental side of things, it builds serious resilience.

"But I saw it in Lidds that first game he played. He had a reason to be fatigued, but he was the opposite, he powered through it.

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"I think we'll see that in his footy from now on."

Understandably, the hooker Tigers fans ask of first is Harry Grant, the Dally M rookie of the year front-runner on loan from Melbourne, currently sidelined after his own knee surgery.

Grant is a reasonable chance of an early return against Penrith next week.

Against the Roosters on Saturday though, as was the case against Canterbury, Maguire and the Tigers are putting their faith in Liddle.

A loss almost certainly ends their finals hopes, another dreaded ninth-placed finish looming ominously.

But considering Liddle is far too well-acquainted with surgeons for a 23-year-old footballer with 39 games to his name, the Tigers No.9 won't be shirking the hard yards against the premiers.

"The knee's pretty good now, they've tightened a few things up in with a bit of my patella, I wasn't worried about it at all out there," Liddle said after the last-gasp defeat of Canterbury.

Everything Lidds has been through ... it builds serious resilience

Michael Maguire on Jacob Liddle

"The whole way through, I won't lie, rehabbing it's not easy and there are frustrating days.

"But I was always going to come through, it's the mental side of it that's the biggest challenge. But I've got a good support network and hopefully can string a few games together now."

Nothing would please Maguire and club insiders more.

Liddle's injury battles had the potential to be delayed by COVID-19 restrictions, only for the Central Coast junior to double down on his solo recovery when regular rehab facilities weren't as accessible as usual.

So there was no hesitation from the coach about tossing Liddle back into the fray at Bankwest Stadium.

With his team's season on the line, the Tigers No.9 found his halfback Brooks with good, clean, early ball to knock over that match-winning field goal.

Keeping the club's 2020 campaign alive for another week, the kid they've watched working tirelessly just to play his part in it.

"The amount of work he has done in the background it's a real credit to him and the staff who kept him up," Maguire said.

"We'll be training on the field you see Lidds ticking away in the far distance doing his work with the physios and rehab on his own.

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"The way we're living at the moment, it really is like a family.

"We go home and come back to work again, nothing else, that's the lifestyle at the moment. You're literally seeing everything, so first-hand, players have seen him navigate his challenges.

"Not that you didn't see that in the past but I think that aspect of club life has been really enhanced this year.

"He always had a smile on his face no matter what he was going through. He had tough days no doubt but you wouldn't know it with Lids.

"We saw the players, his mates, really support him, and then get to play with him and that's what makes it all the more special."