Veteran prop Scott Bolton is in career-best physical shape as he prepares to return from a five-game suspension for the Cowboys against the Warriors in Auckland on Saturday.
Bolton, who was rubbed out of the game for the first five rounds of the season and fined 5% of his 2019 salary after pleading guilty in January to common assault involving a woman last year, on Wednesday said he was "very excited" about making his return to the playing field.
"It's a happy feeling, I’m very excited about getting to play some footy again. It's been a long pre-season for me so hopefully we can kick start our season," he said in reference to North Queensland's 1-4 start to their campaign.
"My role before that when I was training with the boys was just trying to keep upbeat.
"It's obviously a lot worse when the boys aren’t doing so well. Melbourne was a great stepping stone in the right direction. Hopefully we can build on that this week."
As for his fitness, Bolton claimed he was "the fittest I've been in my whole career".
"I’ve definitely run more kilometres then I ever have so physically I feel fine but match fitness is a whole new ball game and we'll see where that is on the weekend."
His fellow forward John Asiata is also grateful to be playing this weekend for a very different reason.
Asiata hyper-extended his elbow during his sickening clash with teammate Nene Macdonald in their 18-12 loss to the Melbourne Storm. The winger suffered a fractured and dislocated ankle and is unlikely to play again this year after undergoing surgery.
Luckily for Asiata, the injury turned out to be nothing too serious for the 25-year-old lock.
Reflecting on the incident, which shut down play for a considerable amount of time while Macdonald was taken from the field, he said "at the time it [arm] felt very bad.
"I've done it a couple of times and I thought I bent my arm most of the way and torn something. As time went on my arm started to feel a lot better and I just said strap it up and I'll keep going.
"After the game it was very sore. I struggled to straighten my hand for a couple of days. Still now if I try and straighten it quick it hurts a little but it's not that bad that I’ll miss a game and I don't want to do that.
"I'm comfortable and I know that I'm confident enough that I'll still be able to do my job within the team."
Asiata said his heart went out to Macdonald.
"People say it's not my fault. I still feel like it was, there was probably something I could’ve changed but it was just the heat of the moment," Asiata said.
"He had his operation, I took him some food and had a chat with him to see how he was going. He said [to me] it’s not your fault, it’s part of football.
"I was very surprised with his attitude. He wanted to get the operation done and get back and rip into training. I'm very proud of the way he's attacked it."
Asiata has injected some enthusiasm and much-needed spark to the team in the past couple of weeks.
"I set goals each and every week to try and be the best that I can be. If I do my job and everyone else does theirs, then it puts us in a good place to try and win the game."