Cowboy raring to get back into NRL action
He's no stranger to the NRL arena but North Queensland Cowboys utility Ben Hampton will enter his 95th career game with a deeper appreciation for rugby league having gone through its absence.
The 28-year-old Mareeba product will line up on the wing for the Cowboys' return clash against the Gold Coast Titans at Queensland Country Bank Stadium on Friday evening.
Hampton, who has only played two NRL games in the last 12 month after missing most of 2019 with a serious bicep injury, said there was no hiding the excitement of a return to rugby league.
"It's just great to be able to play footy again," he said.
"You train for so long - in the pre-season, before Christmas, after Christmas, through trials - just to play footy.
"At the end of the day, that's why we do what we do - to get on the park every weekend with your mates and compete, play hard and play the game we all love.
"For me, running out on to the park again with all the boys, that's definitely something I'm looking forward to."
Hampton said while the break in competition had been mentally tough for players, it had also renewed their energy and passion for the season ahead.
He said he was expecting a tough contest from Queensland rivals the Titans, who will be chasing their first win since Round 13 last season.
"With everything that's been going on, there's been a bit of tension and a bit of stress - and that's not just for us, but for everyone," he said.
"The big boys love the contact and the physical side of the game, so I think as soon as the whistle blows, there'll be a couple big boys from both sides putting their hand up to bring the footy back as hard as they can."
Hampton said the NRL's new six-again rule, which allows referees to restart the tackle count for ruck infringements rather than slow the game down by awarding a penalty, could be a "game changer".
"You could potentially be doing eight, nine, 10 tackles in a row there and that amount of defence is really going to really sting a team," he said.
"With teams not wanting to give that extra set away, you could have less wrestle and it could really speed the game up, but I'm sure there'll be coaches and teams that will come up with ways around it."
Originally published as Cowboy raring to get back into NRL action