Caitlin Moran knew she had to hit rock bottom to make her way back to the top, and now the Newcastle recruit is less than three weeks away from a case of redemption complete.
It’s been 1443 days since the inaugural NRLW competition in 2018, when Moran was one of five marquee Broncos signings ready to light up the first-ever women’s league.
Moran, a former Jillaroos star who scored a try and kicked the side to World Cup victory in 2017, was front and centre of Brisbane’s recruitment spree before an ACL injury hit on the eve of the season.
Moran’s first major career setback led her down a dangerous path of depression that not even her closest friends could help her out of.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, I went through my footy career with no major injuries and then this kept me out for a long time,” Moran told NRL.com.
“My mental health went down crumbling fast. I didn’t know what to do because I’d never dealt with it before.
“I lost my way a little bit and there was anger towards the game for sure. I took myself away from footy for 2-3 years as everyone knows.
“I didn’t think I’d come back with the way I was feeling. But it’s all fallen back into place and there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
Moran didn't need to read any more social media comments, messages from friends or watch herself setting up tries and kicking goals previously to know that she had everything at her feet back then.
However, the comments that came her way became a deterrent, despite how positive they might’ve been intended by others.
“Everywhere I went there would be someone in my ear telling me that I needed to get back on the field but it was too constant, to the point where I realised people are only viewing me as a player,” she said.
“It really got to me and took its toll, kind of pushed me more into depression because I didn’t know who I was anymore, what I wanted to be and want I wanted to do.
“I hit rock bottom, I closed off and I’m one to go into a little shell. Anyone and anything to do with footy I just pushed out of my life.”
Moran spent the next two years out of the game completely to rebuild her life before a conversation with West Brisbane Panthers coach Craig Green in 2021 brought her back to the game casually.
“Initially with Craig giving me the chance to come back I wasn’t going to play at the start,” she said.
“I thought I’d keep up with some fitness but that season really brought me back to loving the game again. I went back the next season and worked on my personal fitness and my game strengths.
“And then hanging out with West Brisbane Panthers girls, they’re my life-long friends now.
“Footy was there and we’d all play but it we’d also go camping, I’d look after teammates kids or we’d all go fishing on weekends. We were always looking for that next adventure.
“They helped me get out of that slump.”
Moran is two weeks into pre-season training at her hometown club with a long-awaited NRLW debut pending.
It’s only fitting that the Muswellbrook junior completes her journey back with the Knights.
“When I got a call from the Knights to see where I was at, it was a no brainer once they offered the chance to come home,” she said.
“I haven’t been home in five years but I’ve gone through a lot of growth personally and spiritually so I’ve got a whole new outlook and it’s working for me.
“I’m a happy person again, getting back to my old self.”
As for Moran’s goals for this upcoming season and beyond, the sky is the limit in her eyes.
“I want to get back to where I was, if not better,” she said.
“The hunger for the game now has gone through the roof. I’m 110% focused on what we’re doing in the NRLW and then see what it leads to down the track.
“The game has definitely changed since I last played but I’m more than confident in myself.
“Especially here at the Knights with the new facilities we have, the squad we’ve put together and the coaching staff we’ve got.
“I’ve got a personal player development plan I’m working on and if the first week of pre-season is anything to go by we’re more than ready.
“I’ve been training my arse off as well so I’m hoping to make a lot of people quiet and hopefully they don’t need to ask where I am anymore.”