Neville Costigan knows all about starting afresh. Has done it three times now. Yet rarely has Newcastle’s marquee back-rower ached to get back onto the field as he has this week.
The Queensland State of Origin forward and 2010 premiership winner with St George Illawarra played just 14 minutes of his Round 1 debut for the Knights before breaking his arm and hasn’t been sighted since, but his belated return couldn’t have come at a better time for club or player when he lines up in Sunday’s crucial clash with the Warriors at Ausgrid Stadium.
“I haven’t played since the first round and it’s gone pretty slowly to be honest so I can’t wait to get out there,” Costigan told NRL.com.
“Especially being at a new club and trying to prove yourself that the club has done the right thing by buying you, when you don’t get a chance to show them what you’re capable of in the first few weeks, it’s pretty frustrating. It’s not being out there to help the boys, as well.
“I played a couple of trials with them but that’s not enough – you want to gel with them a bit more. I’ve seen how much the boys have put in every week and all I want to do is get out there and help them out.
“But the recovery has been good and training has been tough so hopefully I’m right for Sunday.”
Costigan arrived at the Knights this season as one of the NRL’s premier forwards, having played in all three State of Origin games for Queensland and helping St George Illawarra claim their first premiership as a merged entity, but he has almost become his club’s forgotten man during the opening rounds.
Determined to make up for lost time, he isn’t expecting an immediate recall to the Queensland squad that will be named on Tuesday afternoon and insists his focus from now is centred squarely on Newcastle.
“I’m going to need a few games to get a bit of match fitness so I’ve sort of brushed Origin out of the road for this year and I’m just going to concentrate on Newcastle,” he said.
“If someone gets injured before Game Two or Three – I hope they don’t – but if it happened and I got the call-up I’d gladly take it with both hands. But I’m just concentrating on the Knights now and try to get us to the semi-finals.
“I haven’t played with the boys much yet and I want to get out there, gel with them and show them some good experience. I want to lead the way and help them out wherever they need help.”
Quietly spoken he may be, but Costigan is well aware he has arrived at the Knights as arguably their most experienced forward – certainly in representative terms – and takes his newfound leadership role seriously.
“Yeah, I do,” he said when asked if he saw himself as a leader at the Knights despite having played only a cameo role so far.
“At training especially the coach has told me to open up and lead the way a bit. A lot of the younger boys have already asked me questions about Wayne (Bennett) as well because I’ve been at other clubs. They ask me about other players and things like that.”
Bennett’s impending arrival at Newcastle next season may have the entire town buzzing but it is particularly pleasing for Costigan, who only left the Dragons following last season’s premiership triumph because of salary cap pressures.
The 26-year-old began his career under Bennett at Brisbane, saw it rejuvenated when they came together again at the Dragons and is looking forward to their next reunion in 2011.
“It’s good,” Costigan enthused. “I remember when Wayne first told me that they had to squeeze me out because of the salary cap. He said ‘We’ll get back together one day’ but I didn’t think it would be this soon. I can’t get away from him! But it’s great, I’m looking forward to it.
“He’s played an important part in my career. A few years ago at Canberra I’d had a lot of injuries and was looking for a fresh start, Wayne rang me up offering me an opportunity at the Dragons and I knew straight away it was what I needed to get my career back on track.
“I can’t wait to be coached by him again.”
Costigan, though, has more pressing matters on his mind for the time being and believes Sunday’s clash with the in-form Warriors could make or break Newcastle’s season.
The two sides sit in eighth and ninth position on the ladder respectively, with 10 points apiece, and a good run through the representative season would set either up for a late run into the finals.
“It’s a huge game,” Costigan said. “The standard we’ve put up recently hasn’t been good enough and the Warriors have been one of the most dominant teams of the past month.
“This is the part of the year you want to win some games – especially where we’re coming from – so we’re desperate to win a few games in a row.”
Late NRL news:
• Broncos centre Justin Hodges has been declared a certain starter for tonight’s clash with Penrith despite missing training this week with the flu.
• St George Illawarra fullback Darius Boyd returns for tonight’s big clash with the Bulldogs after missing the past two games plus the VB Test with a hamstring injury.
• Struggling Canberra welcome back star fullback Josh Dugan for tomorrow night’s trip to Melbourne after he missed Monday’s loss to Manly with an infected boil.