Sorry is the easiest word as hard times forge Carrigan for Origin

Pat Carrigan sounds like a grizzled old card shark when he talks about the changing fortunes of the greatest game of all: “You take your wins, take your losses and keep moving forward.”

They are sage words from a player who had little choice but to grow up fast in the burning spotlight of the Brisbane Broncos captaincy, which he was handed at the start of the 2020 season after only 19 games at the top level, 17 of which he started from the bench.

He was just 22 years of age and still trying to establish himself in the starting 13, let alone lead the fortunes of one of the biggest clubs in the game. When things went wrong for the club – Brisbane finished last with just three wins – Carrigan was one of those left exposed.

The bustling middle forward was the right man for the job, just at the wrong time. By his own admission, he was nowhere near ready and spent much of the season apologising on behalf of his team and for his own form.

“I put my hand up personally. I think there are always ways you can get better,” Carrigan said after an especially nasty 59-0 loss to the Roosters. “Last week was a below-par performance, not only as a team, but I wasn’t happy with areas of my game individually.

“Leadership is probably something where I’ve got a long way to go, and I’ve got to keep learning, and I’m not going to say I’ve always got the answers.”

Carrigan was right: his leadership had some way to go, although nowhere near as far as he thought. And those sort of selfless responses only served to show the type of character Brisbane had in the building. They are now reaping the rewards as Carrigan takes giant leaps as a player.

So are the Maroons. If Cameron Munster was Maverick for the Maroons in game one, then Carrigan was the guy who built the plane. It was his introduction from the bench that turned the tide in the middle of the field and his physical, robust carries and jolting defence that gave Queensland match-altering momentum.

Maroons bench forward Pat Carrigan.Credit:Getty

Carrigan can easily link the way he’s playing in 2022 to the travails he went through as a second-year player when he unwittingly became the face of a glamour club in freefall. If he had been given the option of a different path, he said, he probably would have elected to avoid the blowtorch.

But now he’s through the other side – a journey complete with a torn ACL last year – he can see the value of his baptism of fire in the top grade.

“It’s one of those things you wouldn’t choose to experience, but some of the lessons I learnt that year, about my own game and having to evolve, that was so valuable,” he said. “And it’s just a confidence thing. When you come into first grade you are around your heroes and you just try not to make any mistakes.

“Having last year out to reflect, that helped me remember why I loved playing and just to do me out on the field.”

Carrigan said he occasionally felt like he was having an out-of-body experience as he sat at press conferences and tried to explain why the club was in reverse. With answers evading him, all he could think of doing was to apologise. Over and over again.

“You always back your ability, but we just couldn’t win,” he said. “I was a bit young. Broncos fans are just so used to winning, so when you don’t know what’s going wrong, you just front up and say sorry.

“It was a good experience in hindsight; it just made me hungrier. It’s made me work a lot harder and I’m where I am today because of those experiences.

“I don’t have any resentment towards that period. If you choose to go through it, you’d probably say no, but you just never know how things will turn out.”

Maroons coach Billy Slater had the chance to start Carrigan in game two after Reuben Cotter was ruled out with injury, but he resisted the call to tinker with a working plan and will unleash Carrigan from the interchange ranks once more.

“Bill had a plan about when he was going to bring me in,” Carrigan said. “I just tried to smile and enjoy it, that’s how I’ve tried to treat my footy this year, just enjoy those moments and don’t stress too much about it.

“I haven’t been off the bench for a while. I wanted to make sure my first effort laid the platform for how I wanted to play. It was good, the cool thing for me was playing alongside the guys I’ve played a lot of junior footy with and share those experiences. That’s something I’ll always cherish.”

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