Michael Hagan is sitting up the front of Queensland's team bus.
The Maroons lead the series 1-0, and have the likes of Darren Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith in their midst, filling seats further down the Greyhound.
"And I've got this sinking feeling in my gut," Hagan says.
"I remember the feeling as soon as the news came through. Those fears ended up being pretty well founded."
Andrew Johns is back. And thanks in no small part to Hagan himself, the most dominant performance in a sky-blue jersey is already in motion.
NRL.com is live-streaming the classic Origin II contest from 2005 on Wednesday, from 7.30pm AEST. If you don't want to know the result beforehand, STOP READING NOW.
'Am I going to be able to play at this level again?'
In early 2005 Johns boasted two premierships, three Dally M Medals, two Golden Boots, 20 Tests and 21 Origins for NSW.
And the future Immortal feared he was no longer fit for first grade.
Almost 12 months to the day, Johns had suffered a season-ending ACL rupture at Parramatta Stadium.
The rest of the 2004 season was spent in rehab. By the summer he was back running. And by round one he was leading the Knights out against Melbourne once more.
But in the bowels of the Canberra's Bruce Stadium just one week on, a despondent Johns turns to Hagan, then Newcastle's coach since delivering a 2001 title in his first Knights campaign.
"We played the Raiders in Canberra early in the season and they gave us a second-half touch-up," Hagan says of a 39-14 loss, following the Storm's 48-10 thumping a week earlier.
"It was a pretty confronting conversation we had at the stadium there.
"Joey was absolutely at his lowest point, he was playing, but he was thinking and saying 'am I going to be able to play at this level again?' And he wasn't talking Origin, he was talking NRL.
"I remember just trying to give him a lot of reassurance, telling him to stay patient and he would get his confidence back."
Behind enemy lines, billed separately
Australia's Test selectors brushed Johns for the Anzac Test.
And then his head collided sickeningly with the shoulder of Warriors fullback Jerome Ropati, the champion No.7 leaving a trail of blood across the fresh concrete as he made his way to the sheds at the $30 million redeveloped EnergyAustralia Stadium in Newcastle.
His badly broken jaw, which was displaced by two centimetres, had him watching from he stands once more for another seven weeks.
When he wasn't shuttling back and forth to Brisbane.
Iconic Maroons coach Wayne Bennett first raised the idea, that Johns should try out some of the new rehab ideas coming out of Queensland's Academy of Sport.
Hagan duly put the wheels in motion, sending his star half north for a gruelling fitness regime that put Johns in the best physical condition of his career.
"The irony wasn't lost on anyone, Joey actually spent 8-10 weeks in Queensland in this program that was ahead of its time in a lot of ways," Hagan recalls.
"It was run by a bloke called Scott Dickinson who was the strength and conditioning coach and he Suki Hobson, they worked with him on a one-on-one basis, and got him back to footy.
"Then he broke his jaw early in the season and he went back north again and trained as well as he thinks he ever had."
Once Origin II was run and done, the role of a Queensland state government facility in aiding a New South Welshman suddenly had blood boiling north of the border.
In response, the QAS released a public statement declaring Johns's rehab was "a private contract exclusive to QAS work commitments", and that "the QAS will also receive payment for Andrew's use of QAS strength and conditioning whilst he trained in Brisbane".
Even in the week leading into game two at ANZ Stadium, Johns had two more training sessions under Dickinson in Brisbane before Trent Barrett pulled up lame in NSW camp out at Dubbo.
Soon enough Ricky Stuart's SOS call lit up Johns's phone, and Hagan's stomach started sinking.
Wally Lewis in sky blue
From his first training session at Coogee Bay Oval, Johns is on. He's carrying on in the tunnel in the moments before kick-off. Always a good sign from "the Eighth".
His 15th-minute grubber sits up off the upright for Anthony Minichiello to open the scoring, but Queensland are still up 1-0 in the series, and still have Lockyer, Thurston, Smith and Slater.
At half-time Queensland are leading 12-8, Slater having gone 85 metres from a Blues fumble to score just before the break.
"And after half-time Joey comes out and boots this big 40-20, and that's just it," Hagan says.
"It's his game after that. It's a bit sad how vividly I remember that game, the 40-20, there was a switch play with Danny Buderus where Joey went right, the defence and attack all went right, except for Bedsy.
"Of course, Joey swings back left through the ruck and Bedsy scores. It's near impossible to coach against combinations like that, and a player like Joey in that form."
Johns has a hand in three NSW tries within 14 minutes after half-time, and all five in the game, the Blues prevailing 32-22.
"He's got the same bearing on Origin as Wally Lewis had," Stuart said afterwards.
Three weeks later at Suncorp, the No.7 is in another stratosphere once more for an emphatic game three victory, just the second time in Origin history the Blues have clinched a decider on Queensland soil.
Hagan had the worst seat in the house for all of it, the opposition coaching box. And a first-hand view of what came next.
"Joey ended up coming back at the peak of his powers to demolish Queensland, leading to my own demise," he chuckles.
"That was my last year in charge of the Maroons and it was too tough, too draining coaching a club and Origin side.
"But we did also happen to cop one of the most dominant performances ever seen in Origin.
"And after coming back in that game for NSW, at Newcastle we really turned a corner and we won eight of our last 11 games in 2005.
"I don't think he could've played much better in that period. That was some of the best footy of his career across the back end of 2005 and '06.
"He had a new understanding of being patient I think, that came through in his footy from that medical scare, he really enjoyed his footy in that 18 months and was at the peak of his powers."