Craig Garvey has broken his silence after being stood down earlier in the season for an altercation outside a Wollongong nightspot, telling his teammates he'll "never let them down again".
Having answered St George Illawarra's minor hooking crisis in playing his first NRL game since August last year, Garvey admitted there were times he doubted he would ever return to the top grade.
The Dragons stood down the 21-year-old from all club duties earlier this year after an altercation with a man outside the Hotel Illawarra on the eve of the 2014 season.
He has since pleaded not guilty to assault and affray charges. The matter will be heard in Kiama Local Court next month.
Garvey was eased back into rugby league via the NSW Cup only weeks after being stood down and has since impressed enough to win over the faith of coach Paul McGregor.
He was drafted into the squad against the Sharks as cover for the suspended Mitch Rein, who will be back to play Penrith at the foot of the mountains on Saturday night.
Asked whether he thought he would ever add to his two NRL games, Garvey said: "There's always that little bit of doubt, but I knew if I just worked hard and followed the instructions given by the coaches and the staff ... they'd see what kind of player I am and I would get a chance again.
"I'm very proud [to play NRL again]. I'm just honoured I've got an opportunity again and I know I'll never let [my teammates] down again.
"After the hard preseason I thought I was [more mature], but there was still that bit of immaturity in me. I had slackened off in those little areas, but once you're around full-grown men doing this every day ... you kind of get into a habit and managing your lifestyle around footy."
The Dragons have long held their former National Youth Competition captain in high regard, shedding hookers to make room for him in the top 25 this year.
They allowed Cameron King early release to chase an opportunity with the Cowboys last off-season and let Damien Cook go to the Bulldogs.
And there were concerns about Garvey's long-term suitability at the club after they meted out his punishment for breaching the club's code of conduct.
But the hooker himself praised the club for not making him feel like an "outcast" when he returned to training.
"Everyone [has been supportive] ... my mum and my dad," Garvey said. "All the boys sent me messages and didn't treat me like an outcast. All the coaches and staff were there for me. There wasn't any singling out to make me feel unwelcome ... they all gave me support.
"And that was the only thing that was hurting me ... I didn't know if I was going to come back or not."
Garvey took over the primary hooking role from Shane Pumipi in the Dragons' pounding of the Sharks and is expected to be in the frame to retain a spot on the bench as Rein's understudy this week.
He said Rein, who served as an inspiration after winning his first NSW Country jumper this year, had been a huge support during a turbulent few months.
"Every time I need a talking to or settling down Mitchy jumps in," Garvey said.
"Whether it's in Cutters or NRL he gives me a lot of confidence in that No 9 and hopefully I fulfilled his duties [against the Sharks]."