Melbourne Storm captain Cameron Smith has offered his condolences to injured teammate Sandor Earl, saying he was heartbroken when he heard the news of the 28-year-old's latest setback.
Earl tore his right knee's anterior cruciate ligament during a non-contact session with the Storm on Tuesday, majorly delaying his long-awaited NRL comeback.
The former Canberra Raiders winger signed with Melbourne in late October after serving a four-year drugs ban and had been impressing his new club in his return to the top grade after spending such a long period out of the game.
The Storm's coaching staff had been taken aback by Earl's physical fitness and it was tipped that he would break into Melbourne's 17 at some stage next year.
Unfortunately, due to the seriousness of the knee injury Earl will now be fighting to be fit at any stage of the 2018 Telstra Premiership season.
Smith rang coach Craig Bellamy when he heard the news, with both the master coach and the veteran captain struggling to comprehend Earl's bad luck.
"[It's] heartbreaking. I was told by a Melbourne staff member on Wednesday and I phoned Craig Bellamy to talk to him about it," Smith said.
"[Craig's] quite upset to be honest. He said that Sandor had made a huge impression on everyone in Melbourne. He said he'd spoken to all our football staff over the past few weeks and every one of them had given Sandor compliments about his approach to training, his willingness to understand the way we do things at the Storm and his willingness to work hard.
"Craig was really looking forward to seeing what Sandor could produce for us. It's really, really sad news for him. It would have been great to see what he could do for us."
As bad as the prognosis may seem for Earl, there is still a slight chance that he may return before the end of the 2018 season, with Smith estimating a nine month recovery from his latest talks with Melbourne's coaching staff.
That means it would be around August next year when Earl is close to a full recovery, and he has Smith's full support, with the 34-year-old backing Earl to put in the hard work during his recovery and hopefully complete the ultimate NRL comeback.
"It's always great to be a part of someone [as they make] their way back from a long stint away. He's been away for about four years," he said.
"I think he's booked in for surgery quite soon and there's a really good chance that he could still be back playing sometime next year.
"That's great for Sandor that he'll be back. Hopefully he can get through a good recovery with his knee and he'll be back playing soon."