Melbourne centre Justin Olam thought his season was done after being dropped in July.
The Papua New Guinea star struggled to find his explosive best this year after a series of injury setbacks curtailed his pre-season.
Olam's axing after the Storm's round 21 defeat to Newcastle seemed to spell the end for him in first grade 2023.
And the 29-year-old was content with that.
"I never thought I was going to come back in (this season) because the boys were playing really well," Olam told AAP.
"It's hard to change a winning team.
"That was my mindset. I was just looking forward to going home (to PNG after the season ended), have a break and come back ready to go for pre-season.
"But it was good that I was ready to play and then the opportunity came for me to come back and play first grade again."
Olam was told to improve his fitness before returning to the Storm's 17.
Groin issues, and a broken arm during a trial match in February meant he was already coming from a low base when he made his first appearance of the season in round three against Gold Coast.
"I've had some things that I needed to work on (since being dropped), and I'm still working on, that the coaches wanted me to do," Olam said.
"There's some things with my fitness that I needed to work on, especially because I had a pretty bad run in pre-season.
"I didn't really get the good conditioning that I needed during pre-season so I've been working on that the last few weeks and have lost a few kgs."
As well as winger Reimis Smith, Olam was brought out of exile for the Storm's sudden-death semi-final against the Sydney Roosters last Friday night.
Although Olam did play in Melbourne's final-round match against Brisbane, it only came about because the Storm and the Broncos both rested a stack of players.
After missing the 26-0 qualifying final drubbing at the hands of the Broncos, Olam returned with a bang to make a valuable contribution in the thrilling 18-13 victory over the Roosters.
Two-time defending premiers Penrith await Olam and the Storm in this Friday night's preliminary final at Accor Stadium.
"Definitely they are the benchmark (of the NRL)," Olam said.
"They're a really good team with really good players.
"The way they play, they're really consistent and we're expecting nothing less from them.
"They'll be hungry and we've just got to match them."