Wests Tigers forward James Gavet was a revelation in the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines. Copyright: Shane Wenzlick/NRL Photos Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
This time last year, Wests Tigers forward James Gavet was a month into his rehab for a foot injury when Mosese Fotuaika tore his pectoral muscle on the eve of the 2013 NRL season.
It was the first of five long months on the sideline for Gavet, and having had a large chunk of 2012 ruined by injury as well, the former Warriors under-20s player found himself in a dark, dark place.
"Words can't really express how hard those times may be. A lot of people see the outside appearance, but they don't see behind closed doors," Gavet told NRL.com.
"There are a lot of quiet times, a lot of the rehab times. All us players go through it and most of us come out the other end. Whether you're at the Tigers or wherever it maybe, we all understand how hard it can affect a player and his life at the time."
Gavet was referring to the difficulties that haunted Fotuaika to take his own life following his injury, a tragedy that rocked both the club and the entire rugby league community.
"I used to call him my younger brother, and him passing away at the same time, I think injury might have complemented some of the problems he was going through. As a club, we hit a low," he admitted.
"Personally, it was tough for me, but I draw off the strength of my family, all those I love, and my dreams growing up. That's what got me through it."
When Gavet takes the field off the bench in Sunday's season-opener against the Dragons, it will have been 574 days since his one and only NRL appearance for the Bulldogs in 2012.
A reunion with another former Bulldog, Martin Taupau, has helped. Despite being a year older than the new starting prop, Gavet said he always considered his pony-tailed teammate an influential figure on his career.
"It's hard to find a chink in his armour, not only physically but as a bloke. He's not only a real good person, but he's a good influence on everyone," Gavet said. "He's a year younger than me but I've always looked up to him, and he's always been there as a player and as a mate."
Taupau, who has been amongst the Tigers' best trainers over the summer, said Gavet had completely earned his selection with a work ethic that wasn't there two years ago.
"Now he's the strongest bastard I know," Taupau said.
"He rips it up in the gym, and his fitness is up as well. I'm really impressed with him. He's lost a lot of weight and is looking good. I'm jealous of his rig.
"He wasn't this strong two years ago, but he's really picked it up since moving to the Tigers. And that's pretty good, considering he's been injured for the past two years."
Gavet, 24, was one of the finds of the Auckland Nines, with his tackle-busting strength as noticeable as his frizzy hair. It was the kind of potential the Tigers were spruiking last pre-season, all before it was ruined by a long-term foot injury. On Sunday, we'll finally get to find out why.
"I've been injury-prone the last couple of years, and it was hard to bounce back but I just found my strength," Gavet said.
"If you just persevere... I've got a starting spot off the bench this week, so it just goes to show the blessings that can come."