Titans half Kane Elgey has pin-pointed the Downer NRL Auckland Nines as the time to finally move past the pain of a 2016 season ruined by injury and start to win back the respect he earned in his rookie season in 2015.
Twelve months after suffering the ACL injury that ended his 2016 campaign before it even began, Elgey insists that he is mentally free of any lingering demons but admits the true test will come in his return to competition at Eden Park on February 4
He won't have long to wait with the Titans to feature in the very first game of the tournament against defending Telstra Premiership champs Cronulla and the 22-year-old believes that providing he comes through unscathed he can leave 2016 behind him.
"I think I'm past it but in saying that I haven't played yet so it's hard to say," Elgey told NRL.com of any lingering doubts about the knee.
"Auckland Nines is very fast footy so after that I'll be fine.
"That will be the big stepping stone but I'm not nervous about it, it's more being excited to get out there and play again having been so long.
"It's in the past now and I'm trying not to think about it. Obviously the boys went well [last year] and I'm just hoping to get through the trials and the Nines and hopefully bring something to the team."
Showing no ill effects of the injury through pre-season training thus far, Elgey continued with strengthening exercises over the Christmas break, a program he has been advised to continue for the next three years.
A host of players in recent times have been plagued by recurring ACL injuries that – in the cases of Ben Henry and Kyle Stanley – prematurely ended their careers but Elgey is determined not to suffer a similar fate, the goofy-footer giving his left knee extra workouts by cutting across Gold Coast waves on his surfboard in his spare time.
A standout as Titans' rookie of the year in 2015 when he featured in 16 NRL games and scored six tries and kicked 10 goals, Elgey is in a three-way battle for a starting spot in the halves along with Tyrone Roberts and NRL Rookie of the Year, Ashley Taylor.
Already a member of the club's leadership group, the Tugun Seahawks junior says his major focus for 2017 is winning back the respect that he earned two years ago.
"[The team] is completely different and I'm still trying to earn my stripes and get the respect that I sort of had in 2015. That's one of my goals, to earn that respect back that I had in 2015," said Elgey, one of just four players still at the club who played in his last game in Round 26, 2015.
"We're working on combinations and I'm pretty happy with the way things are going and I think we're going to be in for a pretty good year."
Elgey could only watch on from the sidelines as a tight-knit Titans playing group qualified for finals football for the first time in six years last season.
Gold Coast footy fans converged by the thousands as their team pushed into the top eight late in the season and Elgey said he would love to be part of a squad that achieves that and more in 2017.
"In the rehab group it is hard to be in with that 17 that is playing each week but in saying that I was still there," Elgey said of a season without pulling on the boots.
"I was still a part of that group and it was good to watch to tell you the truth. It was good to see the whole Gold Coast coming to the games and supporting the team.
"It was a pretty good feeling, but obviously it was tough for me watching having played the year before.
"Hopefully we can get off to a good start and we'll have that same level of support again this year."
This article first appeared on NRL.com