RUGBY LEAGUE: As soon as former NRL front rower Danny Wicks stepped back on Clarence soil he knew he had made the right decision.
After a two-year road to redemption under the harsh spotlight of rugby league's biggest stage, Wicks was ready to leave the city life at the Parramatta Eels as far behind as he could and pull up stumps to move back home.
From standing behind bars at Glen Innes jail thinking he would never play again to signing a lucrative two-year contract extension in August, Wicks has scratched and clawed his way back to the top.
"As far as a career is concerned I was on top of the world," Wicks told The Daily Examiner. "I was playing in the highest level of the sport but the simple reason for leaving was I don't like Sydney - it is not for me."
The beauty of being from the country is there is always someone there with a hand out to help you
With wife Leona and two kids in tow, Wicks has settled back into life in the Clarence Valley, and within two days of unpacking the final box was already pulling on the boots.
Except this time they were work boots as he joined former Grafton Ghosts' clubmate Nat Sewell at his concreting business.
"It was just a chance thing getting the job," Wicks said. "Sewell and I were at a mate's wedding and I told him I was thinking about coming home and he said there was plenty of work on and there would always be a job if I needed it.
"I actually had three or four people message me to offer me something when I came back - so I am very fortunate for that. That is the beauty of being from the country there is always someone there with a hand out to help you."
The 110kg heavyweight used a lot of the local support during his comeback to rugby league after he was forced from the game for four years. After a highly publicised trial and conviction, Wicks was almost at the point of giving up on a future in the game. That was until someone told the prop he wouldn't be able to do it anyway.
"I just needed to find out for myself, I didn't want to be that bloke sitting in the pub in 10 years' time going 'I could have, if I would have' so instead I just went out and I did it," Wicks said.
"I did it a lot easier this time. I had immediate family around me and I wasn't down there by myself and I got myself really fit when I was inside so when I first went down to Parra I was near leading all the fitness drills.
"I was training with Matty Carlin at The Gym in Yamba and we just ticked all the boxes in training four or five times a week to prepare for going down there. I was actually quite surprised with what Matty offered me and the way it translated so well to down there."
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Wicks assimilated back into the game despite a few noticeable changes to the way it was being played.
"When I first went down there the boys were all over at San Francisco and I couldn't leave the country. I was training with this big fella and I thought to myself jeez this bloke is a bloody big front rower," he said.
"After about two weeks I said to one of the trainers 'I'm not going to get a run with this big front rower in the side' - they said 'are you serious, he got winger of the year last year, that's Semi Radradra'. I had never heard of him.
"These guys were 110 to 115kg playing on the wing. The last time I had played, Reece Simmonds was on the wing and he was about 80kg wringing wet. From when I was last in it the game had completely changed."
Under the determined leadership of emergent coach Brad Arthur, Wicks rebuilt his career, constantly leading the Parramatta side in fitness, ploughing through mountains of work on the field.
I think I am the right person to help them and guide them to do it.
Now the newly appointed Grafton Ghosts captain- coach is planning to use a few of Arthur's lessons when he takes the reins at his childhood club.
"In my opinion BA (Arthur) was the best," Wicks said. "Whatever he says you listen to and he was certainly a rock for the playing group. I'll be blatantly stealing some of his stuff to use next year that is for sure.
"You just try and lead by example. If someone wants to further their game or better their game, I think I am the right person to help them and guide them to do it.
"I have been there and I have done it. I have learned from my mistakes and it is just about passing those lessons on.
"I might be a front rower but I understand the game - it is about not letting your mate down and having fun. If you can get those two things down pat then the points will just roll."
While the 30-year-old front rower expects to cop some heckles from opposition fans in his return to Group 2 action, he is ready to give it right back with his work on the field.
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