Bryce Gibbs is feeling fitter than ever after shedding a kilo during his recovery from an Achilles injury suffered in February. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
If there is one thing that Bryce Gibbs has discovered from his lengthy stint on the sidelines this year, it’s not to take anything for granted.
The Cronulla prop was anticipating a big year in 2013. Buoyed by the arrival of former Wests Tigers teammates Chris Heighington and Beau Ryan and the prospect of challenging for a top-four berth, he set himself the goal of playing every game this season – a feat he has never achieved in the 11 years since he made his NRL debut.
But that dream didn’t last long. In February, Gibbs somehow managed to put his foot through his bedroom window with the deep cut he suffered as a result nicking his Achilles’ tendon and ruling him out for the first half of the year.
“It was frustrating because it wasn’t even a football injury,” Gibbs told NRL.com this week, having finally returned to first grade in last week’s 36-22 win over his former club. “I didn’t do it at training or anything; I put it through my bedroom window at home. That was annoying because I wanted to play every game this year. I’ve never missed so many games in one year. I usually play 19 or 20 games a year.
“And obviously I was excited to have [Heighington and Ryan] coming across this year too. I was looking forward to playing with them. We had a good off-season and to do that... it was pretty hard watching them. When you’re winning it’s hard to watch, when you’re losing it’s even harder.
“But the funny thing about it is that I’m actually enjoying training at the moment. I know it sounds weird but I never used to enjoy it, and now I do. I love running. I don’t take it for granted anymore.”
As it was, Gibbs showed that he still has plenty to offer with a standout performance against the Tigers in which he ran for 130 metres – a stat bettered only by Andrew Fifita’s 170.
But with Fifita, Luke Lewis and captain Paul Gallen all due back from State of Origin duty next week, the 28-year-old knows the battle will be on to hold down his spot in a strong Cronulla forward pack.
“We’ve got a good squad of 26 or 27 players and all of the guys that are getting their chance this week (against the Broncos) are good players,” he said. “Mark Taufua definitely deserves his chance and we’ve got guys like Sam Tagataese and Ben Ross who are all first-graders.
“For me, it’s just about getting minutes under my belt. I’ve only been running for about two months now so I need to get my body in condition for playing again. I couldn’t do any running for a long time and the best way to get yourself ready to play football is to run. I’ve been trying to do as much of that as I can.
“I’m actually a kilo lighter than last year. I’m 109 kilos this year and it’s a bit easier to run actually, being lighter.
“It was good to get that first game under my belt last week so hopefully now I can keep getting into condition and keep my spot in the side.”
One way to make coach Shane Flanagan take notice – if he didn’t last week – would be a repeat performance against a Broncos side desperate for victory but also having to do so without a number of Origin stars.
The last time Brisbane ran out with a depleted side they were belted 56-18 by the Warriors but Gibbs said he was expecting a much better showing from them this time around.
“We spoke about that during our team meeting,” Gibbs said. “They’re not really the baby Broncos anymore. I think they’ve got four or five players that have played State of Origin. Obviously they haven’t been playing that well lately but it’s only a matter of time before a side like that gets their act together.
“They’ve still got their halves there... and Josh McGuire was one of the standout front-rowers last year. I think they’ve still got a good team this week and we need to be aware of that.”