A GRUELLING fitness regime was the catalyst behind former NSW Country captain Darren Jackson electing to return to rugby league with Dubbo Macquarie this season.
The 33-year-old started training twice a day, six days a week in October to ascertain whether his body could handle the rigours of a return to the playing field after a three-year absence.
In a major coup for the Raiders, Jackson will slot into the jersey vacated by last year's Group 11 representative hooker Jeremy Smith and he says he is making the comeback with the intention of being the force he was prior to his sabbatical from the game.
"I'm not going to drive 400km down to Dubbo and 400km back to Bourke each week to go through the motions. I'll be going full throttle," Jackson said.
"I'd been talking to (Macquarie president) Gavin Board every few weeks and I suppose after three years away I did have a bit of an itch to come back.
"I would do a running session in the morning and a weights session at night, and I was doing a bit of cycling as well and the body held up pretty well.
"I spoke to (wife) Sara about it and she was really good. She said I could play if I wanted and with our son Preston 10 months old now it would be a bit easier to travel and be away from home a bit."
With Western Division making a return to the Tier 1 Country Championship tournament in 2013, Jackson admits he is keen to try and get back into the green and white jersey, but concedes he will need to earn his spot.
But his first priority is Macquarie, making the surprising admission no other clubs had contacted him to check on his availability.
"To be honest the only club I've spoken with since I retired was Macquarie and I probably wouldn't be playing unless it was with Macquarie," he said.
"In 2009 I played a fair bit with a busted ankle and don't think I was at my best so I have a bit of unfinished business and want to help the club go back-to-back.
"It won't be easy. I am coming in to replace a Group 11 hooker and I'll have to earn my stripes all over again.
"It's a pretty exciting challenge."