If there is a silver lining in Broncos veteran Matt Gillett’s absence for two months with a groin and lower back injury, it is that his battle-weary body is as fresh as it has been at the back end of a year in almost a decade.
Prior to the 31-year-old injuring his neck in 2018 and playing just five games for the season, you have to go back to 2011 to find a year when he missed seven rounds of action, as he did this year after playing against Newcastle in round 15.
Gillett returned in the 22-20 loss to South Sydney and will back up in the clash with the Eels on Friday night at Suncorp Stadium as the Broncos, in eighth position on the Telstra Premiership ladder, target a finals berth.
"Not doing that contact week-in and week-out in the NRL, your body does like that bit of rest. There are two more games to go in the season and I am feeling pretty fresh so hopefully I can make a bit of an impact on the field,” Gillett said.
“I got the little groin niggle in Origin and it kept me out for a couple of weeks. Then I was just doing some weights getting ready to play against the Titans and in the gym I hurt my L5 disc in my lower back.
"It was a bit irritating and wasn’t getting better too quickly, which we were hopeful of. It took a bit of time for it to calm down and for the swelling to get out. Then I was able to get through sessions a bit better.
"I missed a bit of footy since that last Origin so it is great to be back out there with the boys. The body is definitely feeling it the last three days of training but it is good to back into the swing of things and the routine of training. It is pretty full-on.”
The return of Gillett has come at just the right time for the Broncos with September football beckoning and the club's next two games against the Eels and then the Bulldogs away on Saturday week having an air of finals football about them.
Brisbane cannot afford to lose either and Gillett showed against South Sydney, where he broke clear in the 77th minute to set up Kotoni Staggs for a try, that he knows how to turn it on when his team needs something special.
The youthful Broncos forwards have been on fire the past two months with Payne Haas, Matt Lodge and David Fifita leading the way, but Gillett is by far the most experienced Broncos forward in finals football with 13 matches to his credit dating back to 2010.
Joe Ofahengaue has played seven finals games but with Alex Glenn now lining up in the centres the Broncos do not have a pack heavily versed in sudden death scenarios.
Gillett said there was “no worse feeling that sitting on the sideline watching” but after moving on from the hurt of losing a tight game to Souths he is ready to lead the forward pack against two sides that have impressed him in the past two months.
"It is disappointing losing the way we did but the positive is that we hung in there and gave ourselves a chance right towards the back end of the game,” Gillett said.
"We’ve got two tough games coming against Parra and the Bulldogs. They are both playing great footy. That was a great game to watch when they played against each other [on Thursday night], one of the better games I have seen. Parra are a tough side. They like to offload and that is something we have to focus on this week."