Mitchell Pearce has opened up about his successful return to the NRL, paying credit to his teammates for helping him get through his eight weeks away from the game.
The Roosters halfback slotted in seamlessly on Saturday night in his side's comprehensive 38-0 win over the now bottom-placed Knights, scoring a try, kicking for 437 metres and helping straighten the Roosters' attack from the outset.
Pearce refused to make excuses for the Australia Day incident that saw him suspended for the first eight games of the NRL Telstra Premiership, thanking his Bondi brethren for standing by him during what was a difficult two-month period.
"I love my teammates and the boys have been nothing but supportive," an open Pearce said after the game.
"I've come back here and there's been plenty of love. I let them down so to have that support from them - it's a continual thing for me to make amends - and tonight I just felt like I wanted to go out and do my thing.
"I know how to play footy and it was just good to get out there and rip in for my mates because being on the sidelines has been hurting me big time. I'm just thankful it's kicked off to a good start and we'll continue to work hard for the rest of the season."
It wasn't just the support from his teammates that touched Pearce with the entire Allianz crowd rising as one when the Roosters halfback left the field four minutes from full time.
"I really appreciated it," he said.
"Rightly so my actions brought a lot of attention and I've spoken openly about that for a long time now. To get a standing ovation and respect from people like that felt really humbling."
Pearce declared he was "happy" with his performance against the Knights, putting his classy showing down to his tireless efforts off the field.
"It's been a long pre-season that's for sure. I've been really excited. I can safely say that I've been doing everything to a tee and I've been preparing as well as I can and I'm proud of myself for that," the 27-year-old said.
"Obviously I've been playing in this side for a long time so I just wanted to give the boys some direction and kick well. I thought our attack was better tonight. We spoke about our defence during the week and it was really impressive.
"I felt fit out there beside the cramps at the end. I felt fast and I felt strong and I was really happy with my game."
Pearce's return seemed to provide the Roosters with the spark they had been missing in 2016 and it showed in their attack.
The 2013 premiers outran their opponents by nearly 700 metres on the back of countless support plays and early shifts to the fringes in a sign they are returning to the form that saw them win three straight minor premierships.
"The best things we do with our support play and our attacking yardage and playing with each other and connecting, that hasn’t been there," the Roosters No.7 said.
"We've been sort of one out a lot. The boys have been disappointed that they haven't been able to put that together but I thought we got back to that [tonight].
"That goes back to attack and defence – connecting with each other for 80 minutes – and we got back to that tonight and it's all up from here."
Despite picking up the win on Saturday night, the Roosters still sit in 15th spot on the ladder, two wins behind the Panthers who are clinging onto 8th position.
Given their slow starts in previous years, Pearce said the vibe around the joint was still positive and that playing finals football was still their main goal.
"We've got plenty of confidence, and even the games the boys lost at the start of the season…it's only been one point or golden point," he said.
"While that was disheartening for the boys - it takes a lot of energy out of you when you lose like that – there is still confidence in our structures and what we do. We got back to what we do well tonight and we've got to improve on that and improve on that fast."
One game into his much-anticipated comeback, Pearce shot down any talk that he was thinking about pulling on the Blue jersey again ahead of this year's State of Origin series.
"It's definitely the furthest thing from my mind. It's my first game back and I've been out of the Roosters for a long time so this place is my full focus."