It's a bittersweet feeling for Marco Delapena.
The 28-year-old has loved being back in Maitland this season and cherishes the thought of potentially finishing his rugby league career at the place where it all started.
But at the same time, the Pickers centre wonders what might have been had it not been for three ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments while playing for Q-Cup side the Central Queensland Capras.
One thing's for sure, Maitland coach Luke Dorn seems pleased to have the 2011 premiership winner and 2012 Newcastle representative in his injury-depleted squad.
"He [Delapena] has been excellent for us," Dorn said.
"He brings some really good leadership skills with him. He says the right things and does the right things. He's passionate and the boys want to follow him."
Delapena was just 20 when he won a Newcastle Rugby League grand final with the Pickers, surrounded by senior players like PJ Ellis, Billy Towers and Joel Osborn.
The Morpeth Bulls junior was on the wing with Gavin Quinn his centre partner.
A lot has changed since Delapena headed north of the state border in 2013.
"There's not many guys left from back then," he said.
"And we've got a whole new facility [redeveloped Maitland Sportsground]."
Delapena underwent surgery twice in between his 49 Queensland Cup games.
First on his right knee in 2014 and next on his left knee in 2016.
Most cruelly after being picked for but not representing the Queensland Residents, teaming up alongside now Melbourne Storm star Cameron Munster and being contacted by former NRL fullback, now player agent, Clinton Schifcofske with an offer for Japanese rugby union.
"Ever since I left Maitland I had a full run of injuries," Delapena said.
"It all came crashing down. It sucks but it is what it is."
After his third ACL issue in 2017, Delapena spent an extended time on the sidelines.
"I thought that was it," he said. "I thought it was all over for me."
He opted to move home in 2019. Pickers teammate Jacob Sinclair found out and let club president Frank Lawler know.
"Frank got hold of me and I thought I'd give it a shot," Delapena said. "I couldn't say no. I love footy too much."
After missing the pre-season, it hasn't all been plain sailing for the now Lorn-based refrigeration and air-conditioner technician.
He injured his shoulder first up in a trial and also missed a few more matches recently.
"With a pre-season under my belt next year, my body will be much better for it," Delapena said.
Regardless, he reckons "it's nice being back where it all started".