Adrenaline and the cheers from his biggest - and littlest - fans got Scott Drinkwater through his first game back from a serious pectoral injury.
He repaid the Easts Tigers fans’ confidence in him by spending 20 minutes on the Langlands field after their 40-22 win over the Northern Pride - signing autographs, taking photos and chatting to each and every fan who waited patiently to congratulate the man they call ‘Drinky’.
Five-year-old Joshua Dennis waited and waited and waited for his chance to say hello to the player he had been waiting all year to watch.
The adorable exchange while Joshua’s dad took the photo was about the Melbourne Storm and how Drinkwater and his Tigers teammates were inspiring the youngster to want to play for Easts next year when he is old enough.
Joshua is a Melbourne Storm member and huge fan, rating Josh Addo-Carr as his favourite player because of the Josh name.
Drinkwater has tough competition to be Joshua’s favourite Tiger.
“My favourite Tiger is the jumping castle,” the five-year-old said. “And Scott Drinkwater.”
Sitting 12 weeks on the sideline, and missing out on his early opportunity to replace the retired Billy Slater at Melbourne Storm, could have left the young fullback deflated and dejected.
But that’s not Drinkwater’s attitude or personality.
“I’m absolutely stoked,” Drinkwater said of his return to football. “It’s been a long three months sitting on the sideline watching week in, week out and just wanting to get out there and play.
“I was pretty eager to get out there and get a touch early, which I did. My lungs were blowing there in the first half, I was pretty gassed.”
Drinkwater looked impressive from the start, but his second half performance was a return to what Easts fans are used to - controlling the play, setting up tries, and making exciting breaks.
And the loyal Easts crowd well and truly got behind him.
“I love it here,” Drinkwater said post-match while surrounded by young fans. “Everyone gets around you, it’s a tight community and a tight team.”
When Drinkwater nailed his only conversion attempt of the day, the ground announcer made sure Drinkwater knew how much the fans were behind him.
Drinkwater heard the shout-out and every cheer from the stands.
“It’s so good to have the support from the fans; they give you more confidence,” he said.
Drinkwater was just weeks away from his journey to fill the boots of Billy Slater in the Storm line-up when he suffered a pectoral injury during a preseason trial game against the North Queensland Cowboys.
“It held up well. It got a good test there in the second half when it got stretched out a bit, and it held up so that’s a positive,” he said of the pec.
Content with his own performance - the first match in three months - he conceded it may take a few more weeks to return to full fitness and be at a level to make his NRL comeback.
“I felt better in the second half, I got a second wind, but in the first once that adrenaline left it took it out of me a bit.”
“I definitely still want to be playing NRL. Jahrome (Hughes) is doing a good job and Ryan (Papenhuyzen) did a fantastic job.
“There’s two people in front of me who are playing awesome. I need to keep coming back here (to Easts Tigers) and bide my time and play consistent footy.
“Whatever happens, I’ve got to have that ‘next-man-up’ mentality; if someone goes down I’ll be ready to go.
“It’s going to be tough to get back in the team, but I’ll give it everything I can to give it my best shot and I’ll be ready to go whenever.”