Christian Welch still "worries" about suffering a third ACL injury but has revealed how advice from a sports psychologist has unlocked his mind to play the best football of his career.
The 26-year-old warhorse will play in his third season decider on Sunday after bouncing back from two ACL ruptures in 2017 and 2019.
After Friday's 30-10 preliminary final win over the Raiders, Welch said it was "surreal" to be playing in another grand final given the Storm's unique season away from home and his history in deciders.
"I have played two [in 2016 and 2018] and lost two and missed 2017 with an ACL injury so I am ecstatic at going back to the big dance, as they call it, and having the opportunity to win a premiership," Welch said.
"It has been a great year personally to come back and play well and be a part of this team, because it is a really special club.
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"I've done two [ACLs] obviously and it is tough. Mentally it is always at the back of your mind about potentially re-injuring yourself.
"I still have plenty of worries. It is hard. Every pre-game I still think I am going to re-injure my knee.
"Even coming back on with 15 minutes to go [against the Raiders] at the back of mind I was thinking 'Don't get injured, don't get injured'. I think that is natural with my injury past I've had."
Jacqui Louder is a sports and performance psychologist, who has had great success with Cameron Munster, and now with Welch.
"I still work with a sports pysch. Jacqui has worked with a lot of different sports – Olympians and tennis players – and worked a fair bit with us on the mental side of performing well," Welch said.
"I suppose the last couple of years we have had really strong seasons but just fallen short a couple of times. She has been really good for us in trying to channel our best performance for those big games."
Welch said he was "struggling a bit earlier in the year" and Louder advised him to "have a plan" if he was to re-injure his knee. One of those, before the COVID-19 saga unfolded, was to go overseas and do some personal development.
He said the thrust of his mindset was "don't block it out completely but accept it as a possibility".
"I think I am realistic about my abilities and what I can bring to the team. I can't run the ball like Nelson Asofa-Solomona and I don't have the speed of our fast men," Welch said.
"The best thing about being at this club is that my role is really valued around the tough defensive efforts.
"It is a bit weird – to pre-game have those issues that I am thinking about getting injured – but when you flick the switch and get out in the middle it is fairly chaotic.
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"With guys like Josh Papalii trying to run over you then you don't have a lot of time to think about self-preservation.
"It is a bit of a contradiction, but that is my best job of explaining it."
Despite the scars from losing two grand finals, Welch has also found a way to look at his next challenge through a positive spectrum.
"I look at my experiences in 2016 and 2018 coming off the bench and we were behind in both of those games," he said.
"Particularly 2018, I think it was 18-0 [to the Roosters]. Brandon Smith and I were talking about it the other day. We both got on and said, 'This is tough going. How are we going to get this back?'
"It is exciting that I will hopefully be starting next week and have the opportunity to set a good platform and start the game well."
Welch has also found the "upside" to his ACL ruptures. He used his layoffs wisely and now he is stronger physically and mentally for the challenges ahead.
"Physically, the upside of doing an ACL is that you have that length of time to really rebuild the body and you are not playing 26 rounds and finals," he said.
"I did some isometric testing, which identified some issues which I am constantly working on each week. I think identifying your physical weaknesses and working on that with my conditioning team gives me confidence in my body going into a game."