Matt Scott insists new North Queensland Cowboys front-rower Jordan McLean’s arrival from the Melbourne Storm could not have come at a better time.
The 32-year-old co-captain returns to Suncorp Stadium to play the Brisbane Broncos on Friday night almost a year to the day since suffering a season-ending knee injury at the same venue.
The international prop’s minutes have always been quality, even when he’s had to crank up the quantity, but with McLean on board, Scott has a starting partner who can ease the burden in the early stages of his Telstra Premiership comeback.
“We’ve played one trial and one NRL game together and not huge minutes yet, but Jordan coming into the side really takes a bit of pressure off me, and he’s going to help me a lot,” Scott told NRL.com.
“I am really looking forward to spending more time out in the middle with him and develop a combination with Jordan and big Hulky [Jason Taumalolo].
“It is good when you come back from a long-term injury not having that pressure because I know I don’t have to go out there and play 50 or 60 minutes, just the job that is asked of me.
“Jordan and Jase are going to do their job, and more, and then we have guys like Hessy [Coen Hess] and Bolts off the bench, so I think with the rotation we’ve got now the front-rowers won’t have to play more than half a game, but I’m happy with that.”
Against the Cronulla Sharks last Friday, Scott’s energy levels were high and it was as though he was starting back in the NRL the way he left it a year ago. He left nothing in the tank.
“It’s the way I have played the game my whole life anyway,” Scott said.
“Particularly coming back from injury, I think one thing you’ve got to do is put it all out there. If you go half-hearted into anything that is when you risk injury, you don’t play as well and you struggle.”
Scott is not worried about returning to the same ground, and in the same round, that he injured his knee last year.
“It was the hardest thing I have been through in my professional career,” Scott said.
“The question is always going to come up but I can say [returning to Suncorp] honestly doesn’t concern me. It is just another game of footy, and a big one for us against the Broncos.”
Scott has played against the Brisbane Broncos more than any other team in the NRL – 27 times for 14 wins.
“It is always a game where there seems like there is more on the line and feels different to a regular NRL game,” Scott said.
“That stems from the way the games have panned out since the 2015 grand final and how close they’ve been.
“If I play the Sharks or another team with a really big forward pack it is more of a physical contest, whereas games against the Broncos are lightning fast and you’ve got to be switched on the whole game because they have guys that can take advantage of quick play-the-balls. It certainly takes a bit more out of you.”
There is a sense in Queensland that the Cowboys, with seven wins out of the last 11 against their rivals including the 2015 grand final, are now more than just on a par with the Broncos but have gone ahead of them. The Broncos have won six premierships to the Cowboys’ one but Scott is cautious when asked whether the tectonic plates of rugby league in Queensland have shifted.
“I think it is a really hard question to answer, but over the last few years I feel that as a club we are building a reputation and culture that puts us thereabouts at the back end of each season,” he said.
“But to measure ourselves against a club like the Broncos with such a successful history … I still think we have a long way to go, but we are building something pretty special up here.”
For the best part of a decade Scott has not had long absences with injury and he is determined to play top-quality football until at least the end of 2019.
“My mindset has always been to try and get back, and to get back playing the kind of footy I was before I was injured.
“It is early days yet, and I still have a lot of hard work to do, but I still feel like I have a lot of good footy left in me.”