Adam Reynolds is not one for the drama or putting himself in the spotlight.
So, when the former South Sydney skipper was asked what it would be like facing his former teammates for the first time, his response was as you would expect.
“It’s just another game,” Reynolds said.
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But try telling that to Rabbitohs fans, to almost 7,000 who signed a petition last year demanding the club sign Reynolds onto the two to three-year deal that he wanted, that he deserved.
For the past decade, the now 31-year-old was the heart and soul of Redfern, raised on Elizabeth Street and then Morehead Street in Waterloo, a few hundred metres from the oval.
At some point on Thursday, be it away from the cameras before a ball is kicked or afterwards for everyone to see, Reynolds will shake hands with the 21-year-old Lachlan Ilias.
A changing of the guard in its most literal form.
WATCH THE FULL REYNOLDS INTERVIEW TONIGHT ON THURSDAY NIGHT LEAGUE, HOSTED BY JESS YATES, BEFORE RABBITOHS v BRONCOS KICKS OFF
Even current Rabbitohs captain Cameron Murray admitted it would be “weird” facing up against his former mentor.
“It’s a weird one because I’ve never played against ‘Reyno’,” he told reporters earlier in the week.
“Someone like me who’s always looked up to ‘Reyno’, almost followed in the exact same footsteps in terms of my journey here to the NRL and playing for the club I grew up supporting, growing up just down the road like ‘Reyno’.
“It’s going to be a little bit different and a little bit weird.”
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Weird. Probably the right word to describe seeing Reynolds in a Brisbane jumper for the first time. It just didn’t look right.
But for Reynolds, when he pulled on the maroon and gold, it represented something very different in his career. He had won a premiership and represented his state. Still, he wanted more and felt like he could give more. This was a new challenge.
“I remember walking into the change rooms for a membership drive to kick off the season and there was just the jersey, shorts and socks in the room, nobody around,” he told Fox League ahead of Thursday’s game.
“I thought: ‘Gee, I’m on my own here’. Got in there and put the jersey… it felt really good.”
It felt new, different. Like this was a chance for Reynolds to start a new chapter in his career, tasked with leading the rebuild of a fallen powerhouse.
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In Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker and Damien Cook, Reynolds had all the ingredients for a premiership contender at South Sydney. The Broncos, on the other hand, were very much a work-in-progress and it was on Reynolds to help put them together.
It is only early but right now both the Broncos and Rabbitohs sit level with four wins from eight games to start the 2022 season. Advantage Reynolds.
Already, Reynolds dreams of himself being part of Broncos folklore, should the cards fall that way.
“It’s a nice little mural of all the Broncos captains who have won a grand final and I see it as a great challenge [to get there],” he told Fox League.
“It’s a proud club with a great history and it would definitely be good to be up on that wall one day. It’s never too hard to dream big and try and achieve those dreams.”
Reynolds almost had the dream end to his Rabbitohs career, denied a fairytale exit by just two points.
“I’ve got a lot of wonderful memories from the club, a lot of mates there still,” he told reporters last week.
“You’ve got to come up against your old club one time when you move on, for me it’s no different.”
He is the ultimate professional and you would not expect any different from Reynolds given the way he went about his career. That does not mean he would not have hoped for a better ending.
“It’s significant for Adam, there is no doubt about it,” The Daily Telegraph’s Dean Ritchie said on Fox League’s ‘NRL Tonight’ this week.
“Adam can say all he wants about it just being another game. It’s clearly not. It’s a big game for Adam emotionally. He’s played Origin, he’s played in grand finals.
“I’m not going to suggest this is bigger than that but for all the games he lines up in, this will be one of the games he will always remember, coming up against his old side at their old stomping ground.
“He will want to win desperately to show up those Bunnies that let him go. He’s always acted with great dignity and humility right through the process when he wasn’t wanted. There’s no doubt it would have stung him like hell. To have the club you love, come through as a junior, won premierships [with] and [are] the leading points scorer in history, for them to say we’ll only offer you a one-year deal, it would really hurt Adam Reynolds.
“He kept his composure the whole way through, said the right things but no doubt whatever was seething under the skin deep in his soul, that will come to the fore on Thursday.”
Corey Parker, meanwhile, said handling the occasion will be a bigger challenge for Reynolds than many may expect.
“How do you keep your emotions in check?” Parker asked on ‘NRL Tonight’.
“231 games he played for that club, he won a competition, played in two grand finals. He was the heartbeat of the red and green. He’d been through the thick of it and come out the other end.
“He’ll say all week it is just another game and approach it that way but when he runs out there, particularly in Sydney, it’s a huge part of his life and where he is as a human being.”
Even if that is the case, you won’t know it. Reynolds never seems out of control, always takes the right option. It is what South Sydney has been missing as it adjusts to life without him.
While Ilias has only continued to improve with more game time, it is undeniable that the Rabbitohs would still be a premiership contender with Reynolds at the helm right now.
That is the sacrifice South Sydney made. It was not sacrifice for Reynolds though according to Immortal Andrew Johns, who claimed he is actually a better player for the move.
“I’ve been quite vocal about how I thought Adam Reynolds should never have left the Rabbitohs, but from what I’ve seen he is a better player this year than last season,” he wrote in a column for The Sydney Morning Herald.
“The move to the Broncos has really freshened him up. I’ve been watching him closely and he is playing on the ball a lot more than he did at Souths, where he had to share playmaking duties with Cody Walker. He’s almost on the ball nearly every play.
“That’s rare for teams these days because usually the lock does a lot of the first receiving. But the thing I’ve been most impressed with: he’s just playing so tough. Add that to the fact he’s making the players around him better, and I think it’s easy to see why the Broncos moved mountains to get him.”
And if Reynolds is able to steer the undermanned Broncos to victory, as Fox League’s Dan Ginnane put it, he will have had one of his “finest hours”.