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Finally back on the football field and firing after a 2011 season ruined by injury, North Queensland centre Brent Tate has shunned talk of a State of Origin return this season – insisting 2012 is all about repaying the Cowboys for their patience.

The club’s big backline signing last season, Tate instead missed the first 16 games of the year after suffering a serious knee injury during Australia’s Four Nations campaign the previous October. It was the third time in three-and-a-half years that he had required a knee reconstruction.

Tate also missed the Cowboys’ opening round loss to the Gold Coast a fortnight ago before starring in their thrilling 28-26 win over Brisbane last Friday night.

“I’ve certainly got that sense of owing [the Cowboys], that’s for sure,” Tate told ahead of this week’s clash with Parramatta at Dairy Farmers Stadium. “They’ve been very good to me up here and pretty patient with the injuries I’ve had. I just want to play. We’ve got a really good bunch of blokes here so yeah, that’s just how I feel. I want to get out on the field and do a job for them.”

Asked about the challenge of winning back a Queensland jersey this season following the efforts of Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges, Willie Tonga and Dane Nielsen in 2011, Tate said: “I haven’t even given it a thought. I’ve hardly played any footy the last few years. My sole focus is playing as many games for the Cowboys as I can. I’m literally taking it one game at a time.

“I don’t really know how else to approach it with what I’ve been through. I’ve got Parramatta this week. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t love to be there but it’s such a long way away. It’s not in my thought process at all.

“As I said, I’m just happy to be playing footy again so this is the last piece in the puzzle for me now – just playing footy week-in, week-out. I’m just happy to be back. I don’t take any game for granted – I’m enjoying every game I play.”

A veteran of 23 Test matches for Australia and 15 games for Queensland, Tate turned 30 earlier this month and remains unsure whether his current three-year deal will be his last.

“I would play forever if I could but I’m pretty sure the body is going to have a say in that,” he said. “In saying that I don’t think my passion for the game has ever stopped. It has definitely been tested at times, but it’s never disappeared.

“So yeah, just to be on the field playing footy is a big thing for me at the moment.”

Tate scored a try in his return game against Brisbane last weekend and was the man who pressured Broncos winger Gerard Beale into spilling a bomb in the lead up to Matt Bowen’s match-winning try. Ironically, that play alone has gone a long way towards repaying coach Neil Henry who had been under immense pressure following North Queensland’s woeful Round 1 performance against the Titans.

Watch Tate find the tryline against the Broncos in Round 2

Despite their narrow escape last week, Tate said he was confident that the Cowboys were in for a good year.

“We haven’t put any time into worrying about that (the pressure on Henry),” he said. “Everyone at the club, we’re really solid about what we’re doing and where we’re heading.

“I think the big challenge for us this week though is to improve again on last week’s performance. We were still patchy against Brisbane though so there is definitely room for improvement.”

Tate warned that North Queensland would take the winless Eels lightly at their own peril.

“Last year Parramatta really troubled us in both games (they finished one win apiece). They’re a hard team to beat. I watched them against the Warriors and I thought they were unlucky not to win. Chris Sandow is a huge threat. He is their go-to man and has been doing a lot of their stuff for them. Willie Tonga was back this week to. They are a tough team to beat Parra – they don’t beat themselves, put it that way. They really troubled us last year so it’s a big game for us but I’m looking forward to it.”

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