Panthers hooker James Segeyaro admits he was "envious" of watching his old teammates from North Queensland push deep into the finals without him last year.
But after almost two years at the foot of the mountains, the former Cowboy is relishing the prospect of finally playing in the big games, starting with Monday night's top-five clash against his former club.
"I still watch them every weekend as much as I can, but my job's here with the Penrith Panthers and I put that behind me," he said.
"I can't really say I was jealous, [but] I was envious I suppose, in that I wish my team was in the finals and in the position they were in the last couple of years.
"But we've got a good team here. It's unfortunate about the couple of injuries we've had but I thought the boys that stepped up for NSW Cup have done the job."
Segeyaro, 23, has encapsulated the Panthers' steady rise since general manager Phil Gould took over in 2012.
He was one of the club's first signings when Gould arrived at the club and, after being handed the starting gig midway through this year, has enjoyed a breakout season that has coincided with Penrith's reformation as a premiership force.
Now the Papua New Guinean product has the opportunity to meet his former teammates in one of the more significant games of their respective seasons.
A win for the Panthers would keep their top two-hopes alive, while a loss would leave them at risk of dropping out of the top four and just two competition points ahead of the chasing pack – including the Cowboys.
"I've been waiting a long time to play the boys like this, especially once I got my starting position Ivan gave me," he said.
"It's a major game in the context of the table and where it's at in the season. For us it's for momentum going into the finals.
"It's a big game for them too. They've struck pretty good form so I think it's going to be a big clash on Monday night, hopefully we get as many people down here as possible."
Segeyaro paid credit to the man he replaced in the No.9 jersey Kevin Kingston, who has gone from captaining the club to being squeezed out of the NRL team entirely and now playing in the NSW Cup.
"Kevvie's been nothing but a champion bloke on and off the field. I've learnt so much from him," he said.
"We knew last year that there was going to be a stage where I was going to take over. And it was unfortunate how it happened with injury but he's been nothing but all about the team and that's the type of person he is, putting others in front of him.
"You only need to look back 12 months when he got told the club didn't want him and to Kevvie's credit, he didn't sook about it. He put his head down, bum up and played good footy. His action spoke louder than words and he got himself another contract.
"Now he's the club captain and he's still around the team giving blokes advice, especially the young blokes coming through. He's massive to this club. I've just learnt so much from him."
Segeyaro also revealed that a crisis meeting between him, stand-in skipper Jamie Soward and Cleary forced him to step up his game another gear when then-captain Peter Wallace suffered a season-ending ACL injury three weeks ago.
"Ever since I came to the club it was my mindset that I had to play 80. Ivan's led me on well to reach that slowly and urged me on," he said.
"Credit to him, as soon as 'Wal' got injured, me, Jamie and Ivan said for us to move forward in this competition, me and Jamie had to click and steer the team around.
"Ivan's been tremendous in that way. Whoever's come into the side has bought in and just has a knack for making players feel welcome and knowing their role on the field."