WHILE his Sydney Roosters teammates were trying to forget the painful memories of a horror season on Mad Monday last year, Mitchell Aubusson was back at training preparing for round one of 2012.
The 24-year-old missed the last 18 rounds of last season after undergoing a reconstruction of the shoulder he injured in the round-eight loss to Gold Coast. But on Monday night, against South Sydney, a six-month pre-season will culminate in Aubusson's first game since April.
''As soon as the boys knocked off for their Mad Monday, I was straight in there the next day and kept training,'' he said. ''It's been a long pre-season but I feel like I'm starting to reap the rewards for it. I made a pact to myself last year, that as soon as the season finished I would get straight back into training and get ready for what hopefully is a good year this year.''
Just like the Sydney Roosters, who went from premiership contenders to paupers, Aubusson also experienced the ultimate highs and lows of rugby league in the past year. While 2010 was the season he'll never forget, last year is the one he'd like to erase from his memory.
''It was one of the worst things I've ever been through,'' Aubusson said. ''Just sitting there was very hard. It's one thing being around the boys at training and trying to help them out, but there is nothing like actually being out there on the field. You can't do anything to help your mates out who are struggling. All you want to do is go in and do something to lift them but there is not much you can do when you're injured.''
Aubusson, who has been used by coach Brian Smith as a centre in the past, has spent most of the off-season training in the forward pack, shuffling between the second row and lock positions. But with centres Shaun Kenny-Dowall (lacerated kidney) and rookie Tautau Moga (ankle) both expected to miss the opening round, Aubusson is likely to slot straight into the back line.
''Brian didn't really speak to me about it in the off-season but I'm in a position where I'll play in the centres if someone goes down, like Shaun did at training, and I'll be more than happy to fill in,'' he said.
''After a six month lay-off, I'll be happy to do whatever to get on the field. The first 20 minutes of my first trial I couldn't get the smile off my face running around with the boys, but towards the last 20 minutes the smile's gone and you're just hanging on. It's nice to feel that pain again.''
Remarkably, at just 24, Aubusson is one of the oldest players in the team's first-grade squad. Anthony Minichiello (31), Braith Anasta (30), Sam Perrett (26), Frank-Paul Nuuausala (25) and Aubusson are the Roosters' elder statesman, with Smith pinning his season's hopes on a list of NRL novices.
While he's taken on the leadership role at the club a lot earlier than expected, Aubusson insists he's enjoying the added responsibility.
''The boys are all pretty young and some of them are just straight out of school,'' he said. ''But it's exciting and something different that I haven't had to deal with. I'm really relishing the role and looking forward to taking this team into the future.''