Gold Coast forward Ryan Simpkins is confident that his tour of gyms in Perth and Darwin has given him the fitness base required to make his NRL return 14 months after suffering a serious knee injury playing against the Panthers.
Simpkins has been named on an extended bench for the Titans' clash with Manly-Warringah at Cbus Super Stadium on Monday night after playing six games off the bench for Gold Coast last season.
In that time he became a favoured utility option for coach Neil Henry before a ruptured ACL against Penrith in Round 7 brought his season to a premature end. A broken jaw early in the season whilst playing for Tweed Heads in the Intrust Super Cup delayed his NRL return even further but he travelled with the team on their cross-country expedition to Perth and Darwin.
Missing out on both games against the Rabbitohs and Eels, Simpkins and the other non-playing members of the travelling party were put through extensive gym sessions after each game and the 27-year-old is confident his fitness is at a suitable level to tackle the big Sea Eagles pack on Monday night.
"I've worked pretty hard in two weeks that I haven't played so hopefully the match fitness won't be too much of an issue," Simpkins told NRL.com.
"We went out to a few different gyms in the cities we were in and after the games the couple of guys that didn't play would do a pretty solid conditioning session after each game.
"While it's not as good as getting actual game-time I've come back from it pretty fresh from the trip away and feeling like I'm in pretty good shape.
"I've only played two games in the last month but in saying that before that I played three games back to back and felt better every game."
Off contract at the end of the season, Simpkins admitted doubt about his future at the club as he battled his way back through the Intrust Super Cup but that the trip away came at the right time for his confidence.
"Being picked to go with the boys the last two weeks, even though I didn't end up getting a game I was pretty close a couple of times so it was obvious from that that I wasn't too far away," said the former Panther.
"That encourages you and gives you a bit of motivation to keep working hard.
"When you're injured, and especially with this sort of injury, you do question what the future holds a little bit but now that I'm back playing I definitely would like to stay here but the first and most important thing for me is to try and stay on the field for the rest of the year.
"If I can do that and not get any more major injuries then I'll be pretty happy.
"I've spoken to [coach Neil Henry] a few times about the things that he sees that I need to do better to try and get back into that first grade team and most of the time he has been pretty good, just saying to keep doing what I was doing and improve on what I had been doing."
In naming Simpkins in the 17 on Tuesday, Henry said that it was a reward for not only his hard work in getting back on the field and into good form but the skill set he brings to the team as the Titans look to bounce back from their loss to the Eels last week.
"He's had a few setbacks this year, the latest was a hip flexor and he broke his jaw so he's a tough character and certainly adds a bit of utility value," Henry said.
"He's got a bit of ball skill there, a good worker and a very good defender.
"He's a guy who can grind out a game too and he's been in good form."