Fewer than 18 months ago, Brandon Lee was in the Amazon jungle, contemplating his future.
For eight days, he lived on bananas and paw paw, taking time-out on a rugby league journey that had gone stale.
Tomorrow, the reenergised Norths Devils forward reaches a milestone in that journey when he plays his 50th Intrust Super Cup match.
Lee will run on to Suncorp Stadium, his home ground during his days in the Brisbane Broncos Under 20s program, for the Devils’ clash with the Northern Pride.
“That time in South America was important to me because I needed a break,” Lee said.
“I went there and lost 12 kilograms in two months. It was a life-changing trip.
“At that stage, I had really lost interest in rugby league. I stopped playing and started to think about what I was going to do next.”
Lee, 25, had plenty of options to consider. He was a qualified plumber, a qualified personal trainer and a graduate of a diploma in community services.
He had developed those skills outside of his rugby league career which began with his first game in Coffs Harbour at age 12. The next year, Lee had already been offered deals with the Broncos, Newcastle and South Sydney.
He chose the Broncos because they wanted him to stay in Coffs Harbour with his parents and younger brother.
Lee repaid the Broncos with an excellent Under 20s career, winning the club’s player’s player award. But shoulder and knee reconstructions caused problems.
He recovered to play 31 Intrust Super Cup matches with Redcliffe, including the 2016 grand final, before he walked away from the sport.
His return to rugby league came in an unlikely manner. He sought out Devils coach Rohan Smith to join the club as an assistant with Norths’ strength and conditioning program.
Lee came to know Smith through the coach’s brother Keegan, who Lee describes as a mentor.
While Lee helped out in the Devils’ gym, he became intrigued by Smith’s coaching style and wanted in.
Eighteen games later, the Devils are glad he returned to the sport. He made two jarring tackles against Townsville last week that jolted the ball clear when the Blackhawks were deep on the attack.
“Playing at Norths is how I imagined football to be,” Lee said.
“There is just a really good bunch of people at this club. There are no egos here and we’re all working together.
“It’s been great fun playing here and reaching 50 Cup games does mean something to me.”