Wicks strong in long-awaited return
"I've waited five years, what's another five minutes?"
Parramatta prop Danny Wicks afforded himself the tiniest of smiles when asked about his re-entry to the NRL after five long years out of the game, a stretch that included 18 months behind bars for drugs-related offences.
On Friday night Wicks took his number to the sideline twice only to return to his seat, before finally being called on as a replacement for, of all people, Chris Sandow. From that point on he played like he'd never been away.
But Wicks was a downcast mixture of relief and disappointment after reluctantly agreeing to address media following his side's injury-hit 32-12 loss to the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Friday night.
"I think they got me up three times but that's all right. I've waited five years, what's another five minutes?" Wicks said of the delayed call-up.
Ideally Eels coach Brad Arthur would have had a look at Wicks in NSW Cup for Wentworthville for a few more weeks, but a suspension to first-choice bookend Junior Paulo forced his hand.
Under normal circumstances Arthur would have given Wicks 15 or 20 minutes to ease him into his first NRL game back, but a raft of injuries meant Wicks was required for closer to 40. It led to the unusual sight of the big prop coming on to replace one of the smallest men in the NRL as Arthur was forced to reshuffle his line up to manage an increasing injury toll.
Weighing in officially at 108kg, around 20kg lighter than in his previous incarnation as an NRL player, Wicks was one of the Eels' best forwards and never looked like he needed a rest.
"I thought he was great, I really did. He carried the ball strong with good leg speed, he worked hard for a play the ball for us," Arthur said after the game.
"Defensively he kept filling the space from the inside, he worked really hard. He probably got more minutes because of the circumstances than we planned and I thought he did ok."
Club captain Tim Mannah also praised Wicks' efforts.
"I don't usually like singling out guys but he was very impressive. We had high expectations for his first performance but he definitely exceeded that," Mannah said.
Although we didn't win it was a pleasure to play with Danny Wicks after the way he has turned his life around, had a great game as well.— Darcy Lussick (@D_LUSSICK) March 13, 2015
Wicks himself, however, is a much harder marker, it seems.
"I've got a lot to work on to be honest. Just a few different things, I wasn't really happy with it," Wicks said, and while he wouldn't elaborate the statisticians marked him down for four missed tackles, an equal game-high.
"I'm happy to be back and very emotional of course but I've changed my life around and it's for the better."
With ball in hand Wicks was powerful. One of the few – if not the only – Eels forward to bend the monstrous Dogs pack backwards when he charged straight at them, he racked up 148 metres from 15 energetic carries with two tackle breaks.
"I felt pretty fresh out there. I felt like a bit of a sardine, I've been in the can for a long time and I'm good to go," Wicks said, still not shying away from the past despite now looking firmly to the future.