Not since Sonny Bill Williams has anyone had to wait five years to take on their former NRL club.
But that’s the situation Danny Wicks is in when the Parramatta prop returns to Hunter Stadium for Sunday’s clash with Newcastle. Wicks will face some of his former teammates for the first time since he was arrested for trafficking illicit drugs and eventually jailed for 18 months. The dramas cost him about $1 million in potential football wages but the 29-year-old is attempting to make up for lost time with the Eels.
Wicks’ last game for the Knights was way back in September 2009, but his form this season has earned him a contract extension and the chance of a Country Origin jersey.
“He’s going well for a bloke who hasn’t played for five years,” said Eels teammate Nathan Peats.
Wicks will run out against the Knights about 20 kilograms lighter than when he was playing for them. “It’s a special game for him, but I don’t think that’s the focus for him,” said Parramatta coach Brad Arthur.
“The focus for him is doing the best for the team and hopefully help us come up with a strong performance. I think he’s been solid. There are little things he needs to work on from week to week but he gives himself every opportunity through his attitude. He’s one boy who is trying to give everything he’s got every week and he does everything possible at training to improve himself.”
Eels forward David Gower added: “Wicksie is old school, he’s great to have around the joint. He’s obviously energetic, he had a few years out there but he’s come back enthusiastic, strong and fit. He’s teaching the young fellas about maturity and how to prepare.”
Wicks won’t be the only Eel making an emotional return to his old stomping ground on Sunday. Another former Knight, Richie Fa’aoso, is expected to make his long-awaited NRL return from a broken neck. Fa’aoso was named on an extended bench but is likely to return to first grade for the first time since fracturing his C7 vertebrae in a finals match in 2013.
“It’s a credit to Richie, he’s been very positive,” Arthur said. “He’s had his boots laced up a couple of times thinking he is ready to go and then we’ve had to pull the rug from underneath him. He hasn’t dropped his head, he hasn’t been a distraction around the boys. He’s been very positive, everything he’s done for the team has been about the team.”
Centre Brad Takairangi is also a chance of being a late inclusion against the Knights.
There is continued speculation about the future of Titans signing Daly Cherry-Evans, who is considering using the round-13 clause to remain at Manly. However, Arthur said he was confident another Sea Eagles half, Kieran Foran, would honour his commitment to the Eels.
After promising starts to their premiership campaigns, the Knights and Eels are facing the prospect of losing three straight games. Arthur said his side was focused on being consistent.
“Firstly, it’s individually, every week we need 17 players to roll their sleeves up,” he said. “When you’re going into a game and you’ve got five or six, or eight and 10, it’s very hard to win a game of football. If we can get close to 15-17 players playing at their best, [giving] their best version of themselves, we give ourselves a chance.” Follow LeagueHQ on TwitterPlay Ultimate League
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