IT took a day on the terraces at Marcellin Park for Maitland halfback Max Stafford to realise he'd much rather play than watch rugby.
After a long 2018 campaign that culminated in the Blacks' heartbreaking 20-12 grand-final loss to Hamilton, Stafford was lacking motivation in the pre-season and decided to take a break.
He had moved from Singleton to Newcastle and the daily commute to Mount Owen, where he works in the mines as an electrician, was hard to fit in around training.
"I couldn't commit to two days a week and I didn't want to stuff anyone around," Stafford said.
But an afternoon at Marcellin Park in late April changed his tune.
"I watched the game against Merewether at home," he said. "I was getting frustrated watching and decided to put my boots back on. Some of the things they were doing, I just thought I needed to be out there."
After a couple of games in the lower grades, Stafford returned in the top grade off the bench in a 15-12 win over Wanderers in the mud at Passmore Oval in round 10 and was back in the starting side a fortnight later - a 40-7 loss to the Greens at Townson Oval.
"The freshen up has done me good," said Stafford, who played for Newcastle last year. "The hunger is back."
So too are the darts from the base of the ruck and slick passing game.
"I have been training at Billy Coffey's Pinpoint gym for the past year and put on 10 kilograms," he said. "The extra strength has definitely helped my game.
"I play our structure and wait to see what the defence is going to do and then I just try things. The the reason I take the line on a bit more than other halfbacks is because I'm probably dumb and I like the physical side. I don't mind getting whacked."
Stafford will line up against Coffey when Maitland take on Merewether in the minor semi-final at No.2 Sportsground on Sunday.
The Blacks appear certain to be without gun forwards Travis Brooke and Michael Howell after they received head knocks in the 35-19 loss to Wanderers last Saturday.
Wanderers lock Dan Kevill was given a yellow card for his tackle on Brooke who was low to the ground picking up a bouncing ball. Howell clashed heads with Wanderers' Fijian centre Nimi Qio.
James Johnston and Hugues de Rocquigny have been named as replacements.
"Merewether are a good side and play for 80 minutes," Stafford said. "The way this year has panned out - it is that tight - it will come down to who really wants it the most on the day.
"If we turn up and everyone is ready to rock and roll, we will be right. But if we have boys who's minds are elsewhere or are struggling to get into the game, it will cost us."