The Big Interview: Demetri Catrakilis on finding his voice at Harlequins
It wasn’t a surprise for Harlequins fly-half Demetri Catrakilis to see 6’5” centre Andy Symons barrelling down his channel 12 minutes into his first start.
More of a shock was what happened next: a wayward shoulder, a fractured bone in his throat and a trip to hospital. He needed an oxygen mask and neck injections just to keep breathing.
But 413 days and one long road later, Catrakilis is truly back and was instrumental in last Saturday’s 27-19 Premiership Rugby Cup win over Bath Rugby, kicking 14 points and winning man-of-the-match on his first start of the season.
“Being back out on the pitch was exciting for me. It’s the first time I got a good amount of minutes under my belt, which gave me confidence,” he said.
“I’ve had a few setbacks in the last few months but hopefully I can take that confidence into this weekend against Exeter Chiefs, where I look forward to trying to impress again.
“It’s good just to get out there and play. I’m just very grateful to come back and play rugby again. I wasn’t sure, the doctors weren’t sure if it would be possible.
🗣 “I’m looking forward to getting on the field and showing what I’ve got.”
📽 Demetri Catrakilis chats pre-season training, the arrival of new Head of Rugby Paul Gustard and making up for lost time
— Harlequins 🃏 (@Harlequins) July 8, 2018
“I want to get my confidence back, I want to get into that rhythm of playing again, and over the next few weeks (during the international break) is the perfect time to do so.”
The fly-half, 29, has had to go through some dark times to get back to where he is now – he only made three league appearances in the second half of the 2017/18 season.
And the former Montpellier and Stormers No.10 emphasised repeatedly the importance of a positive mindset and attitude during what he describes wryly as a ‘difficult year’ after his injury.
“Whatever you do in life, you need to keep as confident and as positive as you can. I have a good support system, which really helped me during the difficult times,” he added.
“I was at home for a lot of those months, by myself. I couldn’t speak. It was basically very silent at home, directing my wife to make tea or coffee.
“The injury put a lot of things into perspective for me. You can get caught up in the rugby world, playing every week, winning, losing. There are injuries which change your whole life, which change everything, there are things which can end your life.
“There are things a lot bigger than rugby.”
He acknowledges working with a speech therapist, who doubled as his psychologist during his recovery, was a novel experience.
“It was new, it was like starting all the way from the beginning again, learning how to speak.”
In a position where calling the shots is key, the softly-spoken No.10 insists the changes in his voice haven’t hindered him on or off the pitch.
He added: “It’s a little bit different. I do lose my voice if I scream too much, so I have to pick and choose when I use it – before the games isn’t a good idea, but I use it as much as I can during the game. I’m just happy I can speak now and that I can communicate.
“Giving my groom’s speech was difficult – I got married just after the injury, and my voice was not very good. Luckily I had a microphone, so most people could hear me!”
💬 “I’ve been in the gym, running around on the field and on the bike so there’s progress there and I’m slowly getting back into it with the team”
📽 Demetri Catrakilis provides an update on his recovery pic.twitter.com/295db9CIFo
— Harlequins 🃏 (@Harlequins) December 2, 2017
Signed the year club legend Nick Evans retired, Catrakilis has had to big shoes to fill at fly-half.
And with Marcus Smith, and latterly James Lang, impressing as well – Catrakilis knows he has to be at his best.
“I don’t feel any pressure. The pressure is week in, week out, trying to get the best out of the team and myself, that’s the pressure. You want to fulfil the potential of everyone,” he added.
“I like to see myself as a mentor (to young fly-halves Marcus Smith and James Lang). I like to help people as much as I can, and whenever they need advice – on rugby or life – I try to be there for them. That’s what life’s about, helping people.”
Short-term, Catrakilis isn’t looking beyond Newcastle Falcons this weekend. Long-term, he’s more open.
“I can see myself ending my career here at Quins, 100%. I love the environment, I’ve learnt to love the club. They’ve been really good to me and the people are amazing.”