Sandor Earl's five-year comeback complete
SIX years ago Sandor Earl ran onto Kardinia Park in Geelong to compete in an NRL trial game.
In 2013 he was wearing lime green. The Canberra winger with "white blond hair" remembers towelling up Melbourne that day.
A few months later he would be rubbed out of the sport for using performance-enhancing drugs.
He hasn't been seen in a professional rugby league game since.
On Friday night, however, he will return to Kardinia Park to make his long-awaited first-grade return. This time he'll be wearing purple, and a bit more muscle.
"I guess I'm trying to use everything that's happened in the past as motivation and fuel, but also just keep it really simple," Earl told media on Thursday.
"That's my main motivation. It's not as much about me as it might have been a year ago.
"The support I've had from fans, family, friends, all the coaches here and the staff, they've gone above and beyond.
"Everything you see, whether it's in the trials or during the year in the NRL is a by-product of them.
"I'm prepared and ready to go, ready to write that next chapter."
After his lengthy NRL suspension was handed down, Earl escaped to Thailand. There he started his own business and stayed out of the Australian public's eye.
He kept himself fit, training in the gym and on the track to ensure he was ready if ever another opportunity in professional sport came knocking.
That dream came to fruition when the Storm offered him a contract for the 2018 season, after the suspension had expired.
Then, three weeks into his first preseason in half a decade, Earl ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and the dream was shattered - again.
The Melbourne hierarchy kept the faith. They oversaw his rehabilitation and then handed him a new two-year contract, which Earl grabbed with both hands.
He will finally step out in a Storm jumper on Friday night and an NRL return can't be too far away.
"Last year was definitely a disappointment. The biggest thing was in 2017 I put so much hard work in by myself, training, just preparing to be ready for the preseason. Then three weeks in to do what I did, tear my ACL, last year was a write-off," Earl said.
"But credit to the club I'm here with another opportunity to play first grade and I'm so grateful. I'm using that as fuel - everything the club has done for me, all the staff, all the players who I now have as mates.
"I'm looking forward to running out with them and putting it all behind me to be honest.
"It's been the toughest preseason I've ever done, (which is) typical of the Melbourne Storm.
"The best word to explain it is 'prepared'. I feel like I've done everything I can.
"It's very simple here at the Storm. I know my role, I know my job, and I just want to go out there and do that."
Earl will wear the No.5 jumper against the Warriors on Friday. He will spend time on the wing but may also get a run in the centres as coach Craig Bellamy keeps his options open.