The pain of watching his team-mates from the sideline on Game One is driving Sam Thaiday's return to the Origin arena on Wednesday night. Credit: Brett Crockford. Copyright: NRL Photos
He carried no bruises nor battle scars but Maroons second-rower Sam Thaiday felt plenty of pain as he watched his Queensland team-mates hammer away at the New South Wales defence without their ultimate reward.
Sitting on the bench on the sideline alongside Will Chambers and Jake Friend for Game One of the 2014 Holden State of Origin Series was the most recent of a season of tough decisions for Thaiday but – like the others – one that he in no way regrets.
Twenty-four hours before the team for Game One was announced, Thaiday made a phone call second only in difficulty to a teenage boy asking a girl out for the first time. His calf injury – the one that kept him out of the Test against New Zealand in May – still wasn't right, and he knew it wouldn't survive one of the most physically demanding games of Origin ever played.
Every fibre of his 181-centimetre, 100-kilogram frame wanted to run out onto the Suncorp Stadium turf as he has done on so many occasions throughout his 197-game NRL career but despite the feeling of helplessness for those pulsating 80 minutes, it was what he saw afterwards that further inspired his return to the team for Game Two.
"I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to still feel a part of it as much as I could and still feel a part of the team," Thaiday told NRL.com of the decision to watch from close quarters in Game One. "I've got no regrets that I went to the game or that I sat there, it just added a little bit of fuel to the fire for me and made me more hungry to get back and get back in the side for Game Two.
"There were some really, really sore boys and they were banged up and bruised [after the game]. We had a couple of injuries come out of it but the thing that I saw and what impressed me the most was the coach and the captain and a couple of key players were standing there and they were already talking about Game Two."
While Federal and State governments have espoused the virtues of 'tough decisions' and 'strong choices', few players have had to live it like Thaiday has in 2014.
Succeeding Darren Lockyer as Broncos' captain in 2012, Thaiday was convinced by coach Anthony Griffin at the start of the year that the burden of the role was inhibiting is on-field performance and manfully – and in good grace – stepped forward to step aside.
Having not played since Round 6 against the Titans, Thaiday then aggravated a calf injury in trying to prove his fitness to play for Australia on May 3 against the Kiwis and on the eve of the announcement of the Queensland team on May 21 told coach Mal Meninga something that no player wants to utter: 'Don't pick me'.
"It has been a roller-coaster season for me," Thaiday concedes. "Obviously at the start of the year standing down as Broncos captain was a very tough decision and then I missed out on an Australian Test and then making the call to ring Mal and pull out of the first State of Origin was a tough decision as well.
"It's been a year of tough decisions for me but it's something that I've had to do and shows that I've gotten a bit smarter and learned to make tough decisions as I've gotten older."
The upsides on that roller-coaster journey of the past 12 months has been his wife Rachel and the couple's 14-month-old daughter, Gracie. He admits that the responsibility of fatherhood has forced him to find new-found levels of maturity and that his daughter's face puts the worst season in Broncos history in 2013 and the tumultuous start to 2014 in perspective.
"You kick tins because you can't play and then you come home and your daughter greets you with open arms and a smile no matter how bad your day's been and it just makes things a lot better," says Thaiday, who turned 29 last week.
"It's taught me a lot of patience if anything and a lot of responsibility as well. It's a job that I love doing and hopefully in the next year or so we'll go around again.
"At the end of the day I'm happy at home with my wife and daughter and if I'm happy off the field I'm going to be happy on the field.
"My headspace is really good at the moment and sitting off and not playing for five weeks was tough but I think at the end of the day it's only going to make me feel a lot fresher as the season rolls on and it's only going to benefit me."