The Wests Tigers have welcomed me with open arms, but I will feel like an ‘outsider’ until I have earnt the right to wear their colours.

For more than five months I have been part of this club. Since my neck operation and then leaving the Gold Coast I have been made to feel at home here. They really are a great bunch of blokes.

But I signed on to the Wests Tigers to play NRL and when I do, that’s when I will feel like I really belong. That’s what drives me, to again be a part of the top squad.

It’s a privilege to play NRL and you soon realise how significant that privilege is when it is taken away. The thing that hurts the most when you have been injured is the pain of not being in that ‘top squad’. That is what I miss the most.

At every NRL club there is a division between the blokes in the NRL squad for that week and ‘the rest’. That is just the nature of the NRL beast. If you are in the rehab squad or the second grade squad then you can only look on as the top squad does their weights, or goes off for a meeting. Even when you are on the training paddock it will be a case of, ‘OK, NRL boys over here, the rest over there’.

And that division isn’t a bad thing because if you are a part of ‘the rest’ then you are working damn hard to get to the next level.

Getting back playing NRL is my goal, but I also realise it’s foolish to rush things. I have had talks with the Wests Tigers coaching staff and we are all on the one page. I need to be NRL ready – mentally and physically – before I get the call-up. Whether that is a couple of weeks or a couple more weeks after that, that doesn’t really bother me. There is no rush. There is a process and I am keen to follow that process so that when I do put on the orange and black it will be for a long time.

West Tigers McQueen Exclusive Insight

Any injury can affect you psychologically, but a neck injury is a whole different ballgame. At the start of the 2017 season, with the Gold Coast Titans, I was struggling with the injury, but decided to try to push through. But I soon realised I had no alternative, but to have surgery. I spoke with a couple of players who had had similar neck operations – former South Sydney teammate Kyle Turner and Titans’ Nathan Peats – and they were very positive about it.

So in July last year I went under the knife for a C5-C6 disc replacement, and a C6-C7 vertebrae fusion. Nobody wants to be injured and having surgery, but I knew it was the right time and something that I had to do and given that I was coming to a new club and it was going to be a fresh start I didn’t want to delay that recovery process any further. So, I decided to have it when I had it and not to wait until the end of the season. That way I could get to the Wests Tigers and be further ahead with my recovery.

The good news was the surgery and rehab have been very successful. I just did rehab up until Christmas. I was then given the all-clear and started ripping back.

Of course the test was always going to be how I felt when I got back playing. How would the neck hold up? Would there be doubts?

I played a little bit in the pre-season trials, but that didn’t really count. The big test came when I saddled up for the Western Suburbs Magpies in Round One of the NSW Intrust Super competition.

I am not ashamed to say it was scary. I have always been so positive, but something changes when you are coming back from injury. The doubts creep in. ‘What if I get out there and something happens to my neck? What if I get those burners down my arm?’

exclusive insight chris mcqueen

But you just have to push those doubts aside. I knew I had done everything right. Ticked every box. At my three-month and six-month check-in with the surgeon, he was really happy. Come kick-off time all I could do was take that leap of faith.

I made my first tackle of the game, got through it and I thought, ‘Sweet!’ Then there was a second tackle, a third, a fourth and a few carries. I got through it all and there were no problems. In one hit-up I made I ended up in an awkward position. It was a bit of a crusher tackle with pressure on my neck, but I felt none of the pain that I used to feel. That was when I knew: ‘Yep, it’s all good. I’m back playing footy again.’

One of the biggest positives in my return has been the support from everyone at the Wests Tigers. I received so many messages from the boys on my phone – just saying it was good to see me back and they couldn’t wait to get the opportunity to play alongside me when I do finally get back into the NRL. That makes it special and makes you really feel like part of the team.

Those sentiments softened the blow of leaving the Gold Coast. I loved my time on the Gold Coast. I really love that city and didn’t plan to leave there. However, when you are a professional sportsperson the negotiation process doesn’t always go the way you are expecting it to go.

My manager and I were talking to the Titans for the best part of six months and they were saying that they were keen and interested in me staying on. Negotiations also began with the Wests Tigers and as time passed we went back to the Titans and said: ‘Well, what’s happening?’

It was not until the day when I agreed to terms with the Tigers that the Titans made any sort of offer. They kept saying an offer was coming, but it never really did. So, I was left with no choice but to sign with another club and move on.

The majority of times players don’t really want to move on and leave a club, but once that decision is made that you have to go, then you just suck it up and do it. You have to embrace it and that is exactly what I have done in coming back to Sydney. I loved my time in Sydney when I was with the Rabbitohs, so I had no worries about coming back.

And it is strange how the wheel turns. My recovery from surgery could not have been better. Playing footy again was like switching the light back on. My clubmates are a great bunch of blokes who are really shocking a lot of people and will be among the top teams throughout 2018.

I can’t wait to be part of that!