Steph Hancock only watched one game of rugby league last year... and even that was a challenge for the Queensland and Jillaroos champion.
Hanging up the boots temporarily at the end of 2020, the legendary forward went on a hiatus from playing the sport she grew up with last season, but the 39-year-old couldn't even bear the sound of bone-crunching hits and whiff of Deep Heat from the sidelines.
Especially when she travelled to Sunshine Coast Stadium and watched her Maroons teammates lift the Origin shield against the Blues, who she helped beat since 2004.
"I really struggled last year, hence why I’m back wearing football colours," Hancock said.
"I couldn’t even bring myself to watch QRLW.
"I just missed the camaraderie and being around the girls.
"If I’m being honest, playing footy... yeah, it’s great but my thing is, I just love being around all my mates. Getting to travel and party.
"It’s just good to be around a really decent bunch of genuine females that love the same thing as me. That’s what I enjoy the most."
Struggling without the Steeden in her hands, the 16-time Queensland enforcer made a call to long-time friend Jamie Feeney to check-in with how he was going with his recent move to the Sunshine State. Little did she know by the time she hung up the phone with the Titans head coach, she'd be part of the club's maiden NRLW playing squad.
"I think Feens with his move from the NRL in Sydney to Queensland probably wasn’t something that he wanted to do and then me retiring from football was definitely something I thought I was going to be able to cope with, but I really struggled," Hancock said.
"I just happened to have a conversation with him and it wasn’t even relevant to the Titans. It was just a welfare check on each other which turned into a conversation asking if I wanted to be on the staff.
"But then I said I still had the fire burning in my stomach after watching that Origin game last year, so here I am."
'I struggled, so here I am' - Hancock
Spending the gap year from afar, it's no secret the time away has rejuvenated the barnstorming prop who is fit and firing, describing the recent pre-season as being "heaps of fun" - a phrase not typically exclaimed from a 20-year veteran.
"I don’t think pre-season is meant to be fun but it’s just great to see so many young, local footballers in this Titans squad and I’m just so excited about this season," Hancock admitted.
In her last full season before locking away the boots for the year, the women's rugby league stalwart took PNG International Elsie Albert under her wing, mentoring the talented back-rower at Souths Logan before joining the Dragons' NRLW side as a duo.
But despite holding that role in 2020 and being one of the senior leaders in the Gold Coast's newest women's team, the 2017 Rugby League World Cup-winning captain's focus will more just be on mothering the next generation of talent coming through, leaving the mentoring of players to the rest of the NRLW leadership group.
"Elsie obviously came over from PNG and played at Souths Logan in 2020," Hancock said.
"It was a massive thing for me to leave the Broncos and to go down to the Dragons, but to share the experience with Else was probably better than winning a premiership in my personal opinion.
"Watching someone who has been less fortunate with rugby league... to watch her fulfil her dream and for them to back up and give her another contract this year [is amazing].
"Most of these kids… some of them I’ve been watching since they were 12 years old playing schoolgirl footy, have come all the way through and are now 19 or 20 years old.
"So, I think I’m just the old girl who has to look after them, not so much a mentor such as the likes of Georgia (Hale) and Karina (Brown) who probably are."
The fact the Titans are one of three new NRLW sides and how far the women's game has grown in the last few years still amazes the two decade champion, who wishes her past legendary teammates could experience the growth of the female game and playing terms in 2022.
"If you asked me five years ago where women’s rugby league is now, I’d probably have a little chuckle and say it’s at least a decade away yet," Hancock said.
"But it was a privilege to play with all the older girls way back when and still be playing now.
"I know Tahnee is part of the coaching staff, but geez I wish the likes of Karyn Murphy, Theresa Anderson, Tracker (Tracy Thompson), Joey Barrett and Renae Kunst got to experience NRLW.
"It’s come so far from having a coach and a manager. Now we have strength and conditioning coaches, a team doctor, physios, defence and attack coaches. It’s just phenomenal and we get all the gear and our accommodation and food is paid for.
"I can’t ask for anything else."
Feeney should also expect his phone to ring off the hook come the Round 4 clash at Cbus Super Stadium up against Brisbane with the former Bronco chomping at the bit to lineup against her old team.
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"Bloody oath it's going to be one hell of a game," Hancock said.
"We’ve probably got one half of the Queensland squad in this side and obviously the Broncs have been the pinnacle of women’s rugby league for the last three years in NRLW, so I reckon it’ll be an absolute pearler.
"Hopefully Feeney gives me a bench spot… I don’t know if he’ll start me, but geez I hope I’m playing that game of footy."