A sugar-free diet, hiking trips and regular workouts on the gym equipment he sold to teammate Mitch Dunn ensured Coen Hess returned to Cowboys training in even better shape than before the NRL season was suspended.
Hess, who shed six kilograms during the off-season, continued his fitness regime during the five-week shutdown and completed a 1.2km run in a personal best time when training resumed last week.
After a disappointing 2019 season in which he lost his place in the Queensland Origin team, Hess has changed his diet, increased his training and ditched social media.
Teammates are so impressed they believe the eye-catching form Hess displayed at the NRL Nines and in the opening two rounds of the Telstra Premiership was just a glimpse of what is to come.
"One person that came back almost as a new person was Coen Hess. He has come back with even lower skin folds and running even better fitness testing times," centre Justin O’Neill said.
"It is a credit to him. It has taken a lot of hard work and discipline. I don’t know many boys who can go without sugar for as long as he’s gone or things like that. If you don’t eat sugar it’s pretty hard to put on body fat."
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While most of his North Queensland teammates hadn’t seen Hess for more than a month, Dunn got to witness his continued transformation first hand.
The 23-year-old purchased some gym equipment from Hess during the pre-season but when fitness centres were forced to close, the former Queensland Origin forward became a regular visitor to Dunn’s house.
"He has trained really hard through that short break. He has just got some really good routines going and he is doing everything right away from footy," Dunn said.
"I was lucky that I was able to pick up the gym equipment off him and I trained with him a little bit during the break so it was good feeding off him.
"It got a bit competitive with how hard he trained and I was just trying to keep up with him."
Besides the home training program the Cowboys coaching staff had provided for the players, Hess and Dunn varied their routines with runs and even hikes around Townsville.
"We got away and did a few different things, maybe a little bit of a hike or something like that to try and keep positive while it was so unknown of what was going on," Dunn said.
Hess told NRL.com last week that he had realised there was more to preparing to perform each week than just turning up to training with his teammates.
"We are only really at training or the club for 5-8 hours a day and then you come home and you spend most of your time there, so I think the most of our work is done away from the spotlight," Hess said.
"It’s easy to go to training and eat well there but if you go home and if you are not eating right or you are not getting the right amount of sleep or you are not recovering … that is probably the thing I got the most reward from."
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The 23-year-old second-rower also now avoids social media.
"After a game in the past I would always go on and make sure that if I did play well that everyone said I did play well or if I had a bad game I would want to see what people were saying about me but I have come to realise that is just a toxic environment," Hess said.
"I completely stopped that midway through last year and I wasn’t focused on anyone else’s opinions bar mine and my teammates and coaching staff."