Broncos welcome back unsung hero
His absence may have gone unnoticed by those outside the Broncos but teammates insist they feel much better about their prospects of beating the Cowboys in Townsville on Friday night with the return of hooker Andrew McCullough.
Initially expected to miss six weeks with a hamstring injury he suffered against the Rabbitohs in Round 8, McCullough is back in the team in half that time as the Broncos try to inflict consecutive losses for the Cowboys for the first time since Round 23 last season.
McCullough, Alex Glenn and Adam Blair (suspension) are three big ins for the Broncos for the epic rematch of the grand final as they and the Cowboys forge the most entertaining rivalry of the modern era.
The Broncos cruised to a 30-6 win against the Sea Eagles in the second game of last Saturday's double-header at Suncorp Stadium but prop Josh McGuire emphasised the importance of having McCullough back in the side against the defending premiers.
"'Travvy' (Travis Waddell) and Kodi [Nikorima] did a great job but 'Macca' brings that stability in defence," McGuire said. "He's an all-round hooker and a great communicator.
"We did miss Macca the last couple of weeks and it's good to see the little fella running around again and I know that I feel a bit safer when he's next to me in the line.
"Looking forward to having Macca back there."
Playing in his 184th NRL game on Friday night, McCullough has only missed a handful of games since Matt Gillett made his Broncos debut in 2010 and the hard-running back-rower said their durable No.9 doesn't receive the plaudits that he deserves.
"Ever since I've debuted he's been there and been the hooker the whole time," Gillett said.
"He hasn't missed much footy and that's a credit to him for the way he trains and how professional he is off the field and getting recovery done. He's done a real good job to get back pretty early [from injury].
"He's been around for a while so he's a pretty experienced player and he does get us around the paddock pretty good.
"Obviously we've got halves like 'Milf' (Anthony Milford) and 'Hunty' (Ben Hunt) to do all the special work but with 'Macca' there it gives the side a bit of guidance and he does a lot of work in defence as well. He's always showing up when you really need him.
"He doesn't get as many wraps as he should but everyone here knows how valuable a player he is to the side.
"I'm sure he knows that and he's a very important part of our side."
Like McCullough, Blair has missed the past two games against the Sharks and Sea Eagles with two separate suspensions.
While also welcoming his return to the team in the front row, Blair's teammates said that there was no need for any apology for his two run-ins with the match review committee.
"We missed them last week and even though we got the win we do miss those players and they're very valuable parts of the team," McGuire said.
"To have them back for a big game is going to be good for us."