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Panther hits heights after coma

ADAM DOCKER remembers nothing of the attack that almost cost him his NRL career and his life.

The Penrith back-rower doesn't recall the unprovoked assault in Cronulla by 20-odd thugs, who kicked him when he was down, snapped his jaw in two places or how, as he tried to carry one of his female friends away from the scene, another smashed a wine bottle over his head.

And he certainly doesn't remember the induced coma that followed. So this account of that horrific night in February, while given by Docker, is pieced together with the help of those who were present.

''I'd just played [for Windsor Wolves] and then I had a mate's 21st, we just went out for dinner,'' Docker said. ''I got jumped by a group of people, I can't remember any of it. I had two girls telling me what happened. We were going to pick them up from the train station, me and a mate, and we were walking back via the beach to go to Northies in Cronulla. I only had a couple of drinks, I had to drive back to another mate's party.

''One of them started on my mate, who ran off and chased him. He went around the corner and then there was a whole bunch of them. Not good. I was only with the two girls at the time, I don't even know why they picked me. Then they ended up coming back, at least 20 or so with bottles and bricks and stuff. Apparently they ganged up on me. I was with the two girls, so they stood back because they couldn't do anything about it.

''They saw me getting kicked on the ground. One of them went to jump in and stop it and she got pushed and got knocked around. I got up and went to help her try and get out of there. When I went to pick her up to take off, she said that's when the wine bottle came out of nowhere to clonk me on the head to knock me out. I was knocked out but apparently they were still laying into me on the ground, kicking me. I wasn't even defending myself. They didn't catch them, there was nothing on camera and the coppers didn't do much about it. The girl that I was with said it was amazing I only came out with what I did after what she saw.''

When he woke up, after 24 hours in an induced coma, Docker knew something was wrong. The Shellharbour product could move his wobbly teeth around but not his jaw. With no memory of the assault, he initially thought it was another footy injury to start the year. Like the one the previous season, a dislocated bone in his foot that needed a screw and 12 weeks' recovery time. Or the one the season before, when both thumbs were snapped and required surgery.

''That was the first thing I thought about,'' he said of his football career. Just when it seemingly couldn't get any worse, it did. ''After I recovered, just before I got my braces off, I broke up with my missus too,'' he said. ''Everything was going downhill. I was in a bit of a depression state. It wasn't that bad, it was like, 'Well what else is going to happen'?''

What happened is one of the most remarkable and inspiring comebacks of the year. The 21-year-old plumber recovered to regain his place in the Windsor side. His form caught the attention of Penrith coach Ivan Cleary, who picked him in first grade for the last three games of the season. And this week he was rewarded with a two-year contract. The former Dragons under-20s star will have the chance to press his claims for the second-row spot vacated by Luke Lewis next year. ''I never thought any of this would have happened at the start of the year,'' he said.