As Greg Inglis ran onto the field for his first match in almost a year, Sam Burgess stopped the South Sydney Rabbitohs captain and said: “Welcome back buddy, enjoy it”.
The English forward could have been speaking for each person in the record 9,133 crowd at Glenn Willow Stadium or the thousands watching the Charity Shield against the St George Illawarra Dragons on television.
After rupturing his ACL in the opening round of last year’s Telstra Premiership, Inglis played 20 minutes of the Rabbitohs' 22-18 win before the capacity crowd in Mudgee.
While Inglis was unable to say how long it would be before he was back to his best, Burgess and the other Rabbitohs players were just happy to see him playing alongside them again.
“He was just happy, like we’re back together again,” Inglis said of Burgess. “The boys have kept it pretty quiet but they know how much of a big deal it was for me.''
Despite watching the last 60 minutes of the match from the sideline, Inglis accepted the Charity Shield on behalf of the Rabbitohs and will lead the team in the opening round match against New Zealand Warriors in Perth on March 10.
Before the game, Inglis said he had been his usual self in the dressing room, sitting around and joking with team-mates, but he was keen to test his knee against the Dragons.
“It felt really good,” Inglis said. “I was planning to have 20 minutes out there and when I got to the 20-minute mark I wanted to go for another 20 and play until halftime.
“It wasn’t decided until pretty much the captain’s run on the day [before]. I had a pretty solid three weeks [of training] but coming back, the ACL is a massive injury and I have been around the game long enough to know my body well.
“I wasn’t going to go into a game underdone. I wanted to get out there and rip in, it is different to a training scenario. I just wanted to get the ball in hand and get the feel of contact again.
“Just getting the feel of playing again. There are different movements, getting the ball in hand, getting tackled, getting hit, there is totally different things than at training. Coming back from an ACL is a massive thing so to get through 20 minutes I am very thankful.”
Inglis played at left centre and he is not expected to switch to fullback until he feels he is back to his best.
“Who knows, I couldn’t answer that,” he said. “I am just going to take it week by week and see how I pull up each and every week during training.”