In the under-20s NSW match last year, Reuben Garrick was only minutes away from celebrating the state’s fifth consecutive victory, and getting back to the St George Illawarra Dragons for the Holden Cup premiership charge.
Unfortunately for the skilful winger, in the dying moments of that Origin game, he came off second best in a contest and immediately clutched his right knee.
Just like that, the celebrations of the victory were derailed by a medial collateral injury that would eventually put him out for the season.
The Dragons would end up eliminated in the Preliminary Final by eventual premiers, the Sydney Roosters, and all Garrick could do was watch from the sideline.
“It was bittersweet with the boys going so well at the back end of the year being on the sideline with me knee injury,” Garrick tells NSWRL.com.au.
“It was good that they got so far, but unlucky they couldn’t go on with it more.
“I worked a lot [on my knee] during the off season with the Dragons medical staff, and they did a great job, a lot of hard work goes in to getting back out and getting yourself right for the season.
“But it’s all good now.”
This afternoon, Garrick made his return to the Rugby League field for competition points, debuting for Illawarra in their 28-6 loss to the Penrith Panthers.
The distinct difference was the physicality of the game, but he was well prepared for the contest thanks to a gruelling pre-season with the Dragons’ NRL team.
“It was very, very tough, but we’re on the coast, the Penrith boys had it a bit harder out west,” Garrick says, referring to the record-breaking temperatures over the summer.
“We had a massive pre season, I’m feeling fit as a fiddle and I think the other boys are as well.
“It was good playing with bigger boys, it’s definitely a lot more of a grind, it was a physical encounter, a lot more [physical] than under-20’s.
“It was nice to get a game under my belt and make my debut for Illawarra.”
Also playing for Illawarra today was high-flying sensation, Matt Dufty.
Dufty also has limited experience in seniors, having set the Holden Cup alight on a consistent basis for the past three seasons.
Garrick and Dufty have played together for years, and the established fullback-wing combination has another season to flourish in season 2017.
“Me and ‘Duft’ have got an all right combination, he set me up for a few tries last year,” Garrick says.
“It’s always fun playing with Matt, he’s such a good player and such a good facilitator having him inside me.”