Jarryd Hayne: The story of a true believer

There is a whole book I could write on Jarryd Hayne but that’s for another day.

This column was inspired by the haters I see on social media who always try and bring him down.

The comments he puts up with at times are disgusting, at times embarrassing and mostly sad that some people think like this and more than likely are teaching their own kids this learned behaviour.

It’s a tall poppy syndrome that unfortunately Australia is embarrassingly known for.

I have had many verbal disagreements with anyone who wants to criticise or ridicule Jarryd’s journey so for this column I will try and take you inside the first stages of an amazing journey.

I will accompany this with never before seen video and once flicked through and brushed aside by haters I hope it provides inspiration for the many positive supportive people out there.

It’s a Monday and I catch up with Jarryd Hayne, he tells me “Check this video out” and shows me him practising NFL routs.

Tuesday I miss his phone call.

Wednesday he says “You better get over here to Parramatta Leagues club, I’ve got a press conference.”

He drops a bombshell on rugby league and his club the Parramatta Eels by announcing he is leaving to attempt to crack it into an NFL team.

The press conference is brilliant, it comes from the heart.

It’s the first time in a long time there were no restrictions on what he said, no coaches worried what he would say, no media manager telling him what to say.

When Jarryd first started in the game he would avoid media because he was shy, nervous, could say something slightly wrong and have it taken out of context.

A lot of journalist found him rude but it was never that, he just was not comfortable.

At this press conference that all changed, this was him, this was from the heart, giving himself to journalists like he’d never done before.

I had worked for the club Jarryd was leaving for 12 years and am a life member of it, I had not worked for them in the few years previous to this day and now work for their opposition, old friends in the room knew I was there to support Jarryd . . . they know I’ve supported him from day one.

But some in the room saw me as the opposition, the insecure types, the ones who never knew my history with Jarryd.

One of them was a senior administrator at the club but relatively new to the role. He comes to me and growls “If you had anything to do with this we will get you.” I laughed. It’s all I could do. He had no idea what was going on, he was always looking for drama or creating drama.

No one had anything to do with this. This was from deep within Jarryd.

They did not get the powerful desire to chase this and the powerful belief he had that he can do this, they did not get it that to Jarryd, if he doesn’t chase this dream he will regret it and he lives his life with no regrets.

It’s now Friday and I am sitting in the lounge room of his manager Wayne Beavis, sitting with Jarryd going over emails from clubs in America who want to meet him.

Friday afternoon it’s my job to book flights.

Friday night I’m telling my wife I’m going to America, “YOU’RE WHAT?” as soon as she understands why she is VERY supportive.

My wife loved his dream. She knew I treated Jarryd like family and would expect nothing less of me to support him. Another true believer just boarded.

There are the last goodbyes for Jarryd with people who believed in him and loved what he was about to set out to do and there we are on Sunday flying out, an emotional farewell by his family and then its take off.

He lives and breathes NFL from the moment he took off, studying plays, even fell asleep studying plays, woke up to breakfast and studied plays.

His arrival is pretty crazy, it’s pretty big news in America but still a lot of news filtering through from home - and throughout America - is of experts who say he’s crazy, this is impossible.

“Who is this guy? What is he thinking?”

Jarryd gives his time to the media but then sets out to avoid any more news, he instructs everyone to shut it down, not disrespectfully at all to media but more about respecting the sport he was going into.

He did not want to be a publicity machine; he needed to get down to hard work. This proved to be difficult, even getting followed to a local supermarket which was pretty crazy.

Our first training session Jarryd and I go back to our old Parramatta days together with some nice easy speed work. I imagine we looked like a couple of amateurs just having fun in a park.

He also asked me to call some plays he studied on the plane to see if he remembered it.

I’m positive people were saying “Who is this guy haha? Check out that Aussie accent calling plays haha, have a look at that throw by his mate haha … What are they filming for?”

They didn’t know CE Sports were filming a historic journey and Ray, his mate throwing the ball we had just bought for $10 in Target, had never thrown a ball and I had never called an NFL route in my life, but there was something magical about that night that we will always remember.

I’ll always remember a catch he made and James Hawley who was filming couldn’t help but say “He was born for this.”

We eased in with some of our own training, all this again not to rush, be prepared for the first impression made on any Americans because we know in football and sport word travels fast.

The living and breathing NFL went to another level even when holding breath under water.

People thought we were crazy but to practise holding the ball with new grip and protecting the ball he would run and smash into a crashing wave head on, the only person in the water.

“Who was this guy in his undies running head on into waves?”

Phone calls were coming in fast and Jarryd is avoiding the opportunity to meet with clubs until he was ready.

Jarryd understands that he has ONE SHOT at a first impression, he was owning it, no one was going to rush him.

I can picture club general managers hanging up the phone saying “Who is this guy that just declined my offer to come and see us, every other American player is on the first plane there?”

We register at an L.A. performance centre. The morning before we leave I find him in his bedroom sitting in the dark at 4am stretching and prepping for his first ‘real’ session.

At the initial meeting and sign on I can picture the lady leaving the room and asking colleagues “Who is this guy in there who will not sign the part where we can promote his image that he is here? He wants no one to know he is here! Every other athlete wants us promoting them.”

I am positive the junior coach who is given the job to look after Jarryd says “Who is this guy I have to look after, apparently he thinks he can make the NFL.”

A quick YouTube search and he quickly knows the athlete he is dealing with so, no matter if he plays NFL or not this young coach is about to enjoy his work as a performance coach because he is about to work with a one in a million athlete.

The guys there at EXOS were brilliant. Word quickly spreads and within a few days there are former players offering to help and mentor Jarryd.

He shows enough evidence that within days these guys are starting to believe. True believers all aboard the Hayne plane, tickets selling fast.

We visit his friends from church, we attend the Hillsong concert in L.A. as they were filming the last shoot for Hillsong the movie.

It’s clear this environment and everyone he speaks to are totally happy for his journey, everyone so supportive. There was no “Who is this guy?” here. There was a lot of “There’s that guy who has thrown himself in the deep end. There is the guy who will make it.”

We went home and rolled the camera, we chatted and reflected on so many things over the years, we talked about the Fijian camp that changed his life, talked about the night he got shot at in Kings Cross.

We reflected on so many things from the time we first met when he was a kid trying to make the NRL, which is also something that many said he couldn’t do let alone do the things he did as an 18-year-old debutant.

One thing I said to him after the night we just had was “Jarryd I listened to that song ‘Oceans’ tonight. The words are you, it’s what you are doing right now.”

I’ll never forget his answer “Everyone loves singing the gospel, I have to live it.”

We both knew he was physically ready for this journey, I could tell you he physically and athletically could have gone over in 2009 or earlier, back then no one could touch Jarryd but I don’t think he would have handled everything in the same way.

Right now he was not only athletically ready to mix it with and dominate some of the world’s best athletes but more importantly he was mentally ready for this journey.

Everything he had gone through up to now as a professional athlete, the highs and the lows, the tough situations in training or in a game, the lonely times, the hype, the crowds, the media, the physical contest, the testing a rookie will receive from those who want his spot, the cutthroat nature of sport, the expectations.

The powerful belief Jarryd had all comes from where his journey had taken him up to this moment.

He was physically, mentally and also spiritually ready. It is still so hard to put into words how powerful this belief was.

His faith was so strong that everything would turn out. He, like the song mentioned, wanted to go to the unknown, go deeper than he had ever been, where his feet can’t touch the surface and believed he would be OK and grow stronger.

He trusted in his ability having no limitations.

Jarryd would surround himself with nothing but positivity and belief, no negativity could creep into his camp. He knew it existed on the outside, he knew there were hundreds and thousands if not millions of doubters out there but would only let in true believers.

He surrounded himself with the resources he needed to prepare, to learn, to study the game… right down to studying the game on Xbox!

He signed an agent, Jack Bechta, who had a plan and surrounded him with more resources and believers.

Every single action you would see during this time of living and breathing NFL was constant evidence of how much he wanted this.

Fast forward some months…

Months of study, months of preparation, months of sacrifice and I’m sitting with his mum for the press conference where he had made a decision, he had performed so well during trialling that he had options to choose from!

Here he was about to prove so many wrong, hundreds of thousands of Australians and American NFL experts and fans who said he was crazy, they were all about to have egg on their faces while his mum Jodi and grandma sat there with so much pride on their faces.

Memories no doubt flooding back of the tough times, the sacrifices, the times Jodi was there to pick him up whenever he was down throughout his whole career, the times if anyone had ever doubted her son or tried to bring him down, she would instil belief in him.

“I’m going to be a San Francisco 49er” he says while placing the famous branded cap on his head.

This was just the beginning, plenty of doubters still continued and the tall poppy syndrome of many Australians was alive and well with some jealously hoping he would fail.

But the tide was turning, millions of people were now being inspired. I’m sure they were hearing the captain of the plane calling “Believers all aboard!!!”

No longer was there “Who is this guy?” Everyone knew, to the point his number 38 was selling out before a ball was kicked.

Millions and millions of Americans respected this journey and back home in Australia, a country could not get enough of Hayne mania.

TV networks, newspapers, magazines, merchandise shops, hotels, airlines, restaurants, even the odd fake signature shonk were all capitalising and profiting from this amazing journey.

Everyone besides Jarryd.

Everything Jarryd did was not about money. He risked it all, at times not being paid a cent. He profited much more than money.

He was always going to hold his head high no matter what, whether he made it or not, but now, no matter what the haters or the people still infected with tall poppy syndrome have to say about him, he has a priceless memory.

My kids still wear the number 38. The jersey and number represents so much more than just a football journey.

Jarryd Hayne’s fearlessness will inspire people through the ages.

- Hayden Knowles, exclusively for Sportsta.

Hayden Knowles Contributor

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