North Tamworth weapon Josh Schmiedel has defied doctors orders and is prepared to risk blindness in his right eye by playing again.
A month and a half after it was revealed the former NSW Country enforcer may have played his last match, after suffering a retinal tear and a detached retina in a match, he has sensationally made himself available for selection for Saturday's top-of-the-table clash against Kooty at Jack Woolaston Oval.
Schmiedel, 32, had three operations in Sydney to save the eye but his vision is still "real blurry", although he suspects that will improve when he has a cataract removed.
"I've been down to see the surgeon and they obviously weren't too happy: they weren't expecting me to wanna play again," he said, adding: "A lot of fingers crossed. There's a lot of hope in it and a lot of faith that nothin' bad's gonna happen."
Schmiedel said he gave the eye a "good old test" at Bears training on Thursday, including an accidental head clash during a heavy-contact session.
The strapping back-rower wanted to test himself and show Bears captain-coach Scott Blanch he was right to go.
"And I haven't noticed anything different ... anything to warrant I'd be worried at the moment, anyway," he said.
Schmiedel has been "counting the days" to when he could play again, which involved getting expert advice on his recovery and him doing "a lot of research" to safely and slowly build up his fitness.
Initially, however, the married father of two daughters seriously considered retirement after going through a "why me, why did this happen to me?" phase.
"I didn't hate the game but I hated what had happened," he said, adding that the thought of enduring more operations, if he hurt the eye again, made retirement logical.
A lot of fingers crossed. There's a lot of hope in it and a lot of faith that nothin' bad's gonna happen.Josh Schmiedel
"It's weighed on me quite heavy," he said. "But you can see I've been a different person while I haven't been playing. I've been a bit grumpy. I've been a bit moody around the house.
"My wife was the one who said, 'You need to get back and play'. It's something I love doing."
Schmiedel said his sudden availability meant Blanch had a selection "predicament" for his undefeated, ladder-topping side.
He said he wanted to come back now to restore his confidence before the finals started at the end of the month. "The more I can play before we get to the semis the better," he said.
Schmiedel returned to Norths this season after last playing for the club in 2009. In between, he played seven years of first grade with the Macquarie Scorpions in Newcastle, earning NSW Country selection in 2015 and 2016. He played for Aberdeen in Group 21 prior to rejoining Norths.
Before he suffered the injury, when Roosters captain Jordan Sharpe accidentally poked him in the eye in the Bears' 34-16 win at Kooty on June 1, he had been in rampaging form on the right edge.
Another factor in his desire to play again this year was the pending retirement of his great mate, Bears veteran Shane Wadwell. He wants to share more battles with Wadwell before the prop retires at the end of the season.
This year may also be Schmiedel's last season. "I'm not sure what I'll do next year," he said.