Dragons utility Kyle Stanley has credited time in the engine room with the Illawarra Cutters for re-igniting his love for the game and propelling him to his NRL return against Canberra last week.
Since playing limited minutes from the interchange bench in the Dragons' first five games this season, Stanley battled quad and hamstring injuries - the lingering effects of his well-publicised four knee reconstructions.
"I've been out of the game for two years but I didn't really realise that this [niggling injuries] was part and parcel of being out for two years," Stanley said.
"They were big hiccups. I did my hammy and then my quad so I just had to mentally push through it. It was a six-week stint on the sideline so I was pretty rattled but I've got my body right and I'm in good shape so it's been good."
The niggles continued a rotten run of luck for the 23-year-old, but Stanley feels mixing it in the middle with the NSW Cup's biggest backs finally prepared his body for the rigours of the NRL.
"I had high expectations this year and obviously being out of the game for a long time they didn't work out. I played five games at the beginning of the year and got pushed back to the Cutters and playing in the halves there didn't work out because my body just wasn't right," Stanley said.
"After having that six-week stint on the sideline I told myself I needed to start playing some big minutes and playing 13 was the best for me at the Cutters.
"I played about seven or eight weeks there [Cutters] and I was just enjoying my footy there at lock. I think it was important," he said.
His low-key return to the top grade came as the Dragons buried a 14-year hoodoo in Canberra, a win Stanley hoped has lifted his own personal curse.
"It was a good confidence booster. Mary called on me late and I was stoked to go down to Canberra. We hadn't won there for 15-odd years so to win down there and the way we did it was pretty special I think," he said.
"There's three or four games left so coming back into the side last week was awesome and hopefully I can cement a spot there."
While he has no intention of relinquishing his spot in the top grade for the rest of the season, his passage back to the NRL may yet provide a silver lining with the Cutters entrenched in the NSW Cup top-four ahead their final regular season match at WIN Stadium on Saturday.
Stanley believes strongly in their chances of bringing home the silverware.
"It's definitely been tossed around the Cutters boys. They're a great bunch of blokes and they love playing footy together and they've shown that in the games they've won," he said.
"I think there's a great chance for the Cutters to take out the NSW Cup premiership."