“I am fully committed to NSW and I am never going to turn down an opportunity to play Origin,” Campbell-Gillard told The Sun-Herald.
“I spoke with Freddy [Fittler] last week after I made those comments before [Parramatta’s] semi-final. I told him how I felt and how my body was feeling and that was basically it.
“It’s been tough [living in the bubble]. It’s been tough for everyone. People from the outside looking in don’t realise how tough it has been for us and simply think we’re privileged to be playing this game.
“I get all that. I’m actually one of the luckier ones. Melbourne had to move to the Sunshine Coast, you had the Warriors [in Terrigal] and guys who trained all season and weren’t even playing.
“I saw MG’s comments. But try to put yourself in an NRL player’s shoes and you’d go crazy as well.
“Football is the easy part. Living in the bubble has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, physically and mentally. It not only impacts on you but your loved ones. Going back into a bubble is not just hard on me but my partner.”
Campbell-Gillard and the Eels bombed out of the finals race last Saturday night. The players were forced to spend most of Sunday in lockdown before enjoying some freedom. A snapshot of normal life makes returning to a bubble even harder.
The Eels attended the Ken Thornett Medal presentation on Tuesday night and while plenty of beers have been enjoyed, Campbell-Gillard has also tried to catch up on eating out and seeing family with his partner, Alira.
He was driving to Newcastle on the weekend to see Alira’s relatives one last time before bunkering down with the Blues, including Parramatta teammates Junior Paulo, Clint Gutherson and Nathan Brown. Canberra’s Jack Wighton and Nick Cotric will also be added to the squad following the weekend’s matches.
Campbell-Gillard and the Eels started the year so well, but ran out of steam in the back half of the campaign. The 27-year-old said the second-half fade-outs were the main concern and something that was addressed during post-season reviews with coach Brad Arthur. Arthur’s long-term future has since come under the spotlight, but Campbell-Gillard described speculation about his tenure as “stupid”.
A former Panther, Campbell-Gillard said he did not want to comment on Penrith’s record run, but did admit: “I’m happy to see them going well and I’ve still got plenty of good friends there.”
Campbell-Gillard and Paulo were in superb form at different stages this season and produced some big minutes. Fittler saw enough that he left NSW stalwart David Klemmer out of his extended Blues squad.
Campbell-Gillard played just one Origin game in 2018 before he broke his jaw for Penrith in the lead-up to game two of the series.
Paulo, Campbell-Gillard, Brown, Payne Haas, Daniel Saifiti and even Jake Trbojevic will push for front row spots in the Origin opener on November 4, where both teams will fly in and out on the same day.
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.