Rebuilt Gillett targets Maroons recall
Broncos veteran Matt Gillett has set his sights on reclaiming his beloved Queensland Origin jumper - one year on from the horrifying neck fracture which threatened his NRL career.
As he prepares for Thursday's Broncos-Wests Tigers clash at Suncorp Stadium, Gillett told The Courier-Mail he has emphatically beaten his mental demons and is hoping to reprise his status as Queensland's pre-eminent back-rower.
Exactly 12 months ago, Gillett received the news that shattered his world. Scans revealed two hairline fractures in his neck, ending his 2018 season after four games in a setback that also wiped out his State of Origin campaign.
Amid the agony, there were tears and sleepless nights. Gillett, a devoted father of two with wife Skye, remembers breaking down as he contemplated how close he came to potential paralysis and the fear of not providing for his family.
But fast forward 12 months and Gillett is rejuvenated in body, mind and ambition. After starting the season in a foreign role in midfield, Gillett is back on Brisbane's right-edge in the familiar No.12 jumper he hopes to also wear for Queensland in Origin I on June 5.
"I'm all good now. Mentally I feel fine," Gillett says.
"I remember in Round 1 (against Melbourne), I made a run early in the game and Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Storm prop) got me a beauty. He really tested my neck out and it responded fine.
"That gave me confidence and reassured me everything would be sweet again. I'm slowly building and I'd love to get that Queensland Origin jumper back.
"That's definitely my goal this year. Origin is something I want to be a part of and being in the back-row again, hopefully that helps my chances.
"It was hard watching Origin last year. You go from being out there to becoming a fan in the lounge room. The boys are doing battle and you are stuck there watching them, feeling pretty helpless.
"I know I need to start playing better football and if I do that hopefully my name gets tossed up around Origin time.
"I want to get my best game back again to be in that No.12 jersey (for the Maroons)."
It is no surprise Queensland's 2-1 series loss last year coincided with Gillett's absence. The Bribie Island junior had played 18 consecutive Origin games for the Maroons across six series before the neck injury which left his NRL career in limbo.
Gillett, who turns 31 in August, always hoped to return, but his fate hinged on the millimetres of damage to his neck healing appropriately.
"I never wanted to retire," he says. "I just had to sit and hope and wait for my neck to heal.
"If the neck wasn't going to heal I would have had to sit down with my wife and have that conversation (about retiring). But thankfully we didn't have to go down that path because I'm a long time retired.
"I was always pretty confident I could make it back. That was a good mental sign for me, that once my neck healed I was keen to do contact again. It was a freak accident really, and then I had a shoulder injury later in the year, but I made a promise I would give myself every chance to come back."
It is testament to Gillett's toughness that in his official premiership comeback against the Storm, he topped Brisbane's tackle count with 50 tackles. He missed just two.
Handed a new four-year upgrade while he was recovering from his injury, Gillett is determined to repay Brisbane's faith and is adamant his body can soldier on until 2022.
"It was a bit of a challenge last year," he says.
"The pleasing thing is the club had full faith in me to come back and they extended my contract which is great by them.
"It's something I am very thankful for. I have more four years on my contract and I will do everything I can to see out my deal and one day reach that goal of ours to hold up the premiership trophy.
"But first, there's a lot of hard work to do."