It may be over a decade since Aquis Titans recruit David Shillington made his NRL debut for the Roosters with English Test veteran Adrian Morley as his front row partner.
But any suggestion that he has lost any desire to work hard and continue his proud NRL career was seen by Canberra teammates at the start of last season when he missed selection for the opening round.
Instead he had to play NSW Cup for Mounties and broke his hand, providing a further setback in a season in which his contract ended.
Rather than kick stones, ‘Shillo’ put in endless sessions at the Institute of Sports altitude chamber – often by himself – in 30-plus degree heat with the setting at 3000m above sea level - to get fitter than he had been and show coach Ricky Stuart he wasn’t finished as an NRL force.
An admiring Stuart assured Shillington he would be back in his side once he proved his fitness. He returned to the field and played strongly, for the Mounties in ‘reserve grade’ ironically in front of Titans coach Neil Henry at GIO Stadium the day the Titans took on Canberra in round 9.
He had just agreed to terms to join the Titans for the next two seasons, despite interest from two Sydney clubs and the option to join former Raiders teammates Terry Campese and Dane Tilse in England (at Hull KR) in a mid-season switch.
The next week Stuart was true to his word and Shillington was promoted and was never out of the Raiders side again, and didn’t miss another match, averaging 139 metres of go-forward a game – far superior to any Titans forward in 2015 – while averaging 29 tackles a match.
“I heard [Wallabies forward] David Pocock had used that heat altitude room [for injury comebacks] and it was a huge saviour for me, three weeks of training to exhaustion and dry reaching,” Shillington told the Canberra Times.
“It's pretty taxing and I had to do seven sessions by myself. It was lonely and challenging to get through that.
“I guess I was under the pump having a broken thumb, in reserve grade and being off contract. I had to fight like hell, I guess, to work my way out of that situation.”
Henry, who signed Shillington from the Roosters in 2008 for the ’09 season but moved back to the Cowboys at season’s end, knows that is the type of attitude Shillington will bring to the Gold Coast. He first came across the big prop in Queensland Origin days when he was Mal Meninga’s assistant coach and 14-Test servant Shillington made his debut for Queensland in 2009.
So it was a natural fit for Shillington to come “home” for the first time since the Kedron-raised, Padua College-educated prop left to play under-20s with the Roosters in 2002. With wife Sonia also from Brisbane (although they met while both were living in Sydney) and children Eve (20 months) and Ted (five months), they are looking forward to being close to family or the first time in over a decade.
“I was 18 when I left Brisbane, so I’ve been away a long time so it’s good to be back close to home,” Shillington said.
“I’m really looking forward to the challenge with the Titans too. Hopefully the club will get over all the hurdles of this year and have a fresh start and be re-energised and have a big year.
“Neil has set me the challenge of leading the way for the young forwards. I plan to train hard and play strongly and lead by example first and to pass on some knowledge when I can.
“I think the club has some great young players who will improve with experience and a lot of good senior players in the club like Luke Douglas and Greg Bird.
“I’m really comfortable with the decision to come to the Gold Coast and I feel I have a lot of good football left in me. A change of scenery and a fresh challenge has me pretty excited.”
David Shillington’s career
Weight: 112kg. Height: 194cm
NRL games: 204 (73 for Sydney Roosters 05-08, 131 for Raiders 09-15)
Representative: 8 games for Qld 2009-13; 14 Tests 2009-12.
Raiders player of the year 2010