Canterbury fullback Will Hopoate hadn't stepped on a rugby league field since suffering a facial fracture late in his team's Round 2 loss to the Roosters but returned in startling fashion in Round 9's impressive win over Canberra with what was arguably the best club game of his career.
The five-time State of Origin rep was this week named for his Test debut for Tonga and on recent evidence his inclusion will be massive for the Mate Ma'a.
THE Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs will be out to forge an important victory when the North Queensland Cowboys visit ANZ Stadium on Thursday 11 May.
Hopoate was absolutely everywhere against Canberra, running for an absurd 308 metres with nine tackle busts, six offloads and a try assist. Afterwards, he credited getting "flogged" by club trainers during his layoff for getting through such huge numbers.
"The lungs are definitely hurting! I can't wait to recover and rest," Hopoate laughed after the 16-10 victory.
"I've been really trying to work on elevating my mindset. No doubt there was times I was blowing but I kept telling myself just one more tackle, one more run and I'm just grateful to come away with the win."
He said his main focus was just not to let the boys down after watching from the sidelines for so long.
"I was really excited to play this game after having seven weeks off and it's not too fun watching from the sidelines so I really wanted to come out and do my best for the boys," he said.
"Every player knows when you're in rehab, it's not too fun in there, they flog you with cardio and conditioning and that was the case with our trainer.
"Absolutely [it helped], we were just talking about it in the sheds and those sessions definitely helped me a lot."
Hopoate only got clearance from the surgeon to return to contact training at the start of the week but after getting through a few field sessions was allowed to suit up against the Raiders.
"I saw the surgeon last week and he assessed it and looked at it, he gave me the green light, he was happy with it. I did a bit of contact earlier this week with the boys and after getting through that I was confident in heading to the game," Hopoate said.
Pressed on his own impressive numbers, the humble 24-year-old was still reluctant to take and personal credit.
"I'm going to take a lot of confidence from that no doubt. I mentioned [Friday] to the boys I was just really itching to get out there and play footy, play the sport that I love and hopefully I showed that [on Saturday]," he added.