Inside this week's Big League magazine... Credit: Big League Copyright: Big League
DANE Gagai’s Twitter profile doesn’t go back to May 9, 2012, but even if it did you wouldn’t have found an emotion-charged spray directed at the club that had let him go just six weeks after signing him to an extended deal.
Immediately upon being informed by Brisbane Broncos coach Anthony Griffin that he was free to look for another NRL club having played just six games in the top grade to date, the then 20-year-old took responsibility for his actions and declared his determination to atone for his mistakes.
These weren’t mistakes that required police involvement or in any way harmed anyone other than the man himself, just a general sliding of the professionalism required by the Broncos and indeed the other 15 clubs of the NRL.
So a young man who had captained Brisbane Boys College First XV and won an award for academic performance suddenly found himself ostracised from the group of mates with whom he spent most of his waking days and unsure of exactly what his future held.
On March 23, 2012 Jharal Yow Yeh suffered an horrific ankle injury while playing for the Broncos in Perth that has brought a – hopefully – temporary halt to his flourishing NRL career. But as he struggled to cope with his own change of fortunes, Yow Yeh made sure Gagai was the first to get back on his feet.
“I left behind some good mates and a cousin (Josh Hoffman) but they all said the same thing to me. Just before I left Jharal said to me, ‘Keep your head up, you never know, this might be a blessing in disguise,’” Gagai recalls. “My cousin Josh and Jordy Kahu also told me the same thing, just to stay positive and helped me through it.
“[Jharal] was probably going through an even tougher time than me and he’s sitting there telling me to keep my head up and being supportive. I take my hat off to him and wish him all the best and hopefully he gets a full recovery and we see him back in the NRL where he should be. I was just lucky to have those kinds of mates to help with the transition of signing to another club.”
The other club Gagai refers to is the Newcastle Knights, for whom Gagai will play his 27th game on Friday night against the Broncos – the first time he has faced his former club.
Neville Costigan – himself a former Broncos discard and also hailing from Mackay in Queensland – was there to greet Gagai when he arrived in Newcastle and believes leaving Brisbane behind is the best thing the young centre could have done.
“He’s from where I’m from, in Mackay, so I’d met him before. When he got here I took him out for a feed and we went out for dinner a couple of times and had a yarn,”
Costigan tells Big League. “He was telling me that he struggled a bit there in Brisbane and I told him what happened to me and that was the best thing that I’d done, leaving Brisbane and I think he might have been thinking the same thing. He knows now that it was the best thing he’s done, getting out of Brisbane.”
Gagai has been joined in the Hunter this year by younger brother Jacob and is conscious of being a positive role model for his sibling whom he says will be the bigger of the two in a couple of years’ time.
Eligible to play for both New Zealand and Queensland, the older Gagai missed a month of football at the start of the year with an ankle injury but has averaged 126 metres the past six weeks and formed a formidable combination with left winger James McManus.
They’re just some of the reasons midway through last year Knights coach Wayne Bennett decided to extend an opportunity to keep his rugby league career alive. The 2010 Junior Kangaroos rep is spending every day trying to repay that faith.
“I knew straight away ,as soon as I had my meeting with Wayne, this was the place I wanted to be and this was where I could see myself growing as a player and a person so that was what influenced me to make the decision to come here,” Gagai says.
“I always make sure I train as hard as I can. Even if I come in feeling tired I do everything I can.
“Wayne has been a massive help, always seeing how I am doing. Everything’s going good. He gave me a call over ‘Chrissy’ out of the blue just to see how my Chrissy was going, if everything was all right.
“It’s just good having someone like that there who you can talk to, talk about anything. He’s been a massive help in my change.”