HE was sharing the field with a host of Super Rugby talent but NSW Country Eagles prop Andrew Collins drew the biggest cheer as he returned to his home patch on Saturday.
The former Pirate was a clear crowd favourite – his arrival with just under 20 minutes to go welcomed with a “Collins is on” from ground Gary McSweeney followed by a raucous cheer.
“It’s crazy,” Collins said about the whole experience.
“I wasn’t expecting that.”
He said his team-mates made comment to him that it gave them tingles hearing the reaction when he came on.
He had spoken to them before the game about what it meant to him to be playing back at Pirates, and admitted he did get a bit emotional.
“It’s something I didn’t think I’d get to do again,” he said.
That the Eagles won made it all the more memorable.
Collins’ last season with Pirates was back in 2007 and he remarked at how different the ground looked.
“There’s been massive changes.
“None of this was here when I was here,” he said referring to boxes that sit atop the clubhouse, which itself has been renovated, and covered grandstands.
The playing field itself was also improved since he was last running around on it.
This is his first season involved with the Eagles and he’s been loving it so far.
“We’ve gelled pretty well and pretty quickly,” he said.
When he came on, the game was in the balance with Stars winger Harry Jones having just scored what was to be the first of his two quick tries to bring the Stars back within a converted try.
The Eagles twice led by two tries – in the first half and then again early in the second half.
But they were never quite able to shake the Stars off.
One of the reasons for that was the scrum. It was a torrid day for the Eagles scrum with the Stars pushing them around.
“We’ve had a strong scrum all year,” Collins said.
“I don’t know what happened.”
It will be something they’ll be addressing this week as they prepare to tackle the high-flying Brisbane City.
He wasn’t the only one with a big band of supporters on Saturday.
Eagles skipper Jono Lance’s grandparents are from Tamworth, and he quipped that he had spent a few Christmas’ here over the years.
“I’ve got 15 family members all here.
“For me it was a really good experience,” Lance said addressing the crowd after the game.
Stars five-eighth Angus Roberts meanwhile hails from Gunnedah originally and wore the red and blue of the Red Devils as a junior.