St George Illawarra powerhouse Russell Packer insists his much-scrutinised comeback to the NRL on Monday won’t be the final step on his road to redemption.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor has named Packer in the starting side for the round-one road clash with Melbourne, officially ending his two-year absence from the NRL.
Following a year in jail in 2014 after being convicted of assault, Packer is grateful to have his once-promising career back on the rails.
“I’ve been working towards redeeming myself and I don’t think one NRL game would be cause for redemption for anybody,” Packer said on Tuesday.
“It’s part of the process, part of the journey, and that process has been a long one.
“My year away taught me a bit of patience. I’m happy and ready to play, to get out on the field and let my actions do the talking.
“You can never control everything in rugby league, but the things I can control are how I live and how I behave, and that’s what I’m focused on in terms of where I see myself in 12 months time.
“I still want to be living the right way, living the same way I am now.”
Born in Foxton, a small town on the lower west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, Packer was with the Warriors for six years, earning Kiwis selection in 2011.
He signed a four-year contract with Newcastle in 2013 before it was torn up due to his assault conviction.
The 26-year-old prop returned to rugby league in 2015 with the Illawarra Cutters in the NSW Cup and signed a two-year deal in October with St George Illawarra.
Packer is ecstatic to be included in the team to face the Storm, eager to test himself against a player he rates as the benchmark for front-rowers.
“I’m really excited to go down to Melbourne and pull the jersey on in a real NRL game, to get out there and represent the club, a club that has given myself and my family a lot of support through these hard times. It’ll be good to repay them not only in this first game, but as many times as I can.
“Obviously, (Storm prop) Jesse Bromwich is the standard for front-rowers. He’s an elite front-rower in the world, so it’s going to be good to get back on the field and test not only myself, but all our forwards against really high-calibre opponents like Jesse.”
Packer’s enforced absence from the NRL has given him a new perspective on life.
“I’m at a different place, especially mentally, from when I last played NRL, and also definitely physically.
“I was overweight and out of shape when I last played for the Warriors. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in for a long time, about 118 kilos,” Packer said.