Four years after wondering whether his career was over, Jahrome Hughes is ready to lead the Storm to premiership glory.
The 25-year-old halfback had two surgeries on his back early in his career, the most recent in his first pre-season at Melbourne at the end of 2016.
"After two back surgeries you think you are no chance of coming back and being successful in this tough game," Hughes said.
"I was worried about whether I would get back to where I want to be but the coaches and physios stuck strong with me and got me back into the right mindset and physical shape.
"I haven’t had any problems since. Now it is just about maintaining it."
This year Hughes has made the transition from fullback to the halves with distinction and is ready to continue his strong form against the Eels at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
Any doubts that he can steer the Storm to a premiership are now gone.
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"If I didn’t think that I shouldn’t be here. That is big for me, just having the confidence in myself to be that guy," he said.
"I do have confidence in myself to do it.
"There are still a lot of things I want to work on but I am happy with how I am going."
Back to the future
Hughes wasn't going that flash when he arrived at the Storm from a year in Townsville and injured his back for the second time.
"They were both from lifting weights in the gym doing back squats," he said.
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"I had a bulging disc both times and they were pinching the nerve. We just shaved the disc off.
"The first time it worked well. Once that second one came along I talked to the gym guys here and fully brushed back squats. I didn’t want to put my body at risk again."
His journey to the top is a tribute to his perseverance after he learned plenty of lessons at the Titans where he made his NRL debut as an 18-year-old in 2013. A major injury was just around the corner.
"I thought [success] was all going to come easy back then after debuting at a young age.
"I didn’t want to work hard when I was younger and just thought that clubs were going to re-sign me.
"I got a reality check and went up to Townsville to play Q Cup for the Blackhawks for a year and that was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
"Kristian Woolf was the coach up there and he really got me into that hard working mindset, and even more when I got down to Melbourne."
Hughes learned "a lot of things" from renowned perfectionist Cooper Cronk when he was at the club. One example in his last Storm game showcased that to a tee.
Hughes set up two tries for Suliasi Vunivalu in the 50-22 win over Wests Tigers in round 19. One was a pinpoint 40-metre kick that skimmed across the turf and the other a perfectly weighted bomb.
The Melbourne half tried to set Vunivalu up again later in the match but the ball rolled into touch. He chastised himself, clearly not happy it went awry.
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"When Cooper was down there [at Melbourne] if he didn’t have something right, he kept doing it until he got it right at practice. He was a perfectionist," Hughes said.
"I’m not saying I am like that yet, but I want to be like that. That is the reason he ended up with such a great career, just with the way he went about the little things."
Craig Bellamy and the Storm coaching staff have given Hughes the confidence to make the transition to half after he initially found the switch "a bit daunting".
"I just needed to find that confidence to do it myself and be that voice in the team, like most halfbacks are," he said.
"I have tried to be that guy to organise most things and run when I want to. I am still trying to find that balance of when to be selfish and when to find that voice as well."
The evolution of his kicking game has also been a tribute to the Storm looking outside the box to improve their players.
"Changing positions you have got to kick more and we have done things with a few AFL teams.
"There is a kicking coach with the Richmond Tigers called ‘Fly’ [Craig McRae] who has helped a lot. We did a session with him once a week in the pre-season. We aren’t able to do that now but he sends us clips of how to do things."
As he prepares to embark on his third straight finals campaign, Hughes is well aware that if it wasn't for all his hard work at the Storm, he might still be in Townsville.
"I was up there working at Brothers Leagues Club so I would probably still be doing that and playing with the Blackhawks I guess," he said.
"It was a blessing in disguise going up there and having a great coach like Kristian. I realised the opportunity I had given up. It made me want to get back into it."