For 308 days, James Horwill has been thinking about one thing – getting back on the rugby field.
But the finally fit Queensland Reds captain hopes it will be the last thing on his mind ahead of Saturday night’s long-awaited Super Rugby comeback.
After enduring a stop-start 10-month rehabilitation, Horwill has been given the green light for the Reds’ Suncorp Stadium clash with South African heavyweights the Bulls.
Overcoming a hamstring tear suffered against the Brumbies last May was tough enough.
Having his mooted 2013 round-one comeback derailed by an ankle injury was positively cruel.
However, Horwill reckons the biggest challenge is yet to come.
“There’s been excitement, anxiousness. This is probably the hardest part – sitting around waiting and managing the emotion,” Horwill said of his comeback match.
“I will probably sit around and try and focus on other things other than rugby.”
And no wonder – it seems the giant lock has spent enough time dwelling on his prolonged sideline stint.
“I thought about how much I have missed out on. I counted 308 days between football games,” Horwill said.
“That’s a fair amount of time not playing when you are a professional footballer.
“I am looking forward to getting back into the swing of things – this is the final hurdle.”
Horwill is one of five changes for the Reds (3-2 record) while South African conference leaders the Bulls (3-1) have made a staggering nine since their heavy last-start loss to the Crusaders, albeit five due to injury.
Springboks five-eighth Morne Steyn will start on the Bulls bench for the first time in four years.
However, the brutal three-time Super Rugby champions will still provide a bruising welcome back for Horwill – and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Physically, it is hard to find a tougher team,” said Horwill, who will have a 40-minute comeback cameo on Saturday night.
“They have made a number of changes but they have swapped like for like – they are not lacking for size.”
Horwill said his side wanted to bounce back from a surprise 19-12 loss to the Western Force last Saturday night.
That’s easier said than done without form openside flanker Liam Gill (knee), replaced by Jarrad Butler who will make his run-on debut.
“He’s been one of the form players of the whole competition,” Horwill said of Gill.
“But Jarrad is a robust player. We are not asking him to play like Liam but he is a physical guy who likes the contest and that’s what these guys (Bulls) are going to bring.”