Ryan James's girlfriend, Ana (left) and mother TerriLee (right) are torn on whether the Titans prop should lose his locks for charity. Copyright: Titans Media Credit: Titans Media Copyright: Titans Media
Ryan James has a problem, and it has nothing to do with the shoulder injury that threatens to keep him out of the Titans' Round 1 clash with the Sharks.
In order to raise $40,000 for the Leukaemia Foundation, James is literally putting his trademark locks on the chopping block and the two most important women in his life are torn on the idea.
"He's been growing it the whole time we've been together, nearly nine years, and I'm kind of over it. It smells, he never washes it and he leaves hairballs everywhere," was the impassioned plea from James's partner, Ana.
"His long hair is who he is but it's only hair," said James's mother, TerriLee. "It's just who he is I think, I'm just so used to seeing him like that."
For James, the commitment to shave his head should the Titans be able to raise $40,000 as part of the World's Greatest Shave initiative goes deeper than a feud between mum and girlfriend. Former Titans teammate Luke O'Dwyer lost his younger brother, Ryan, to leukaemia in 1998 and as close family friends, it hit the James household hard as well.
"We grew up with the O'Dwyers, their dad coached us," James revealed. "My older brother and Luke used to play footy together and then me and Luke played footy together the last couple of years and we're just good family friends.
"It hit everyone hard. Ryan also played with my local junior club, Bilambil Jets, and since Ryan was sick with leukaemia he wasn't really allowed to play footy but Bilambil gave him the opportunity to play. They gave him a jersey with his name on it and he got to run out on the field wearing it.
"[My hair is] part of my image but if it goes it goes for a good cause. We've set the goal at $40,000 and if we get $40,000 we'll get rid of it."
Luke O'Dwyer founded the O'Dwyer Shield that is played between two north coast schools each year in honour of his brother and is touched by James's latest pledge to help fight the disease.
“Ryan was five years old in 1991, and I was eight, when he was diagnosed with leukaemia," O'Dwyer recalls.
"He had a long tough battle with the dreaded disease and relapsed three times before going down the path of an unrelated bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately Ryan didn’t survive and passed away in July of 1998 at age 12.
“He was a passionate rugby league supporter who only had the chance to play the game a very few times, not entirely backed by his oncologist, but she never had the heart to refuse him."
Having committed to the Titans through until the end of the 2017 season just last month, James endured a setback to the start of his 2014 season when he suffered a shoulder injury while crashing into the Warriors defence from a kick-off in the club's opening trial game and has been unable to take the field since.
He rates himself slightly better than a 50 per cent chance of turning out in Round 1 against the Sharks but insists it is better to exercise caution at this time of year than risk further injury.
"It's probably about 85 per cent at the moment, just trying to get my strength back and work towards Round 1," James said. "If it doesn't happen I'll just keep working on getting it strong until I can play.
"I did it and then tried to keep playing and it just kept getting weaker and weaker and then I couldn't really feel my arm for about three days. We didn't really know what it was at the start but a ligament in there just got jammed up and it hurt pretty bad.
"I tried to make a couple of tackles [at training on Wednesday] and it didn't feel that good but it's getting strong, it's definitely progressed since it happened.
"It's such a long season that you'd rather miss Round 1 than come back and hurt it and be out for another six weeks. I've had a good pre-season and put in all the hard work and I'm not going to lose that bit of fitness in two or three weeks from not doing a couple of things in the gym."
As for the suggestion that, like the biblical character Samson, James derives his strength from his hair, the 22-year-old had a very simple response.
"I don't even know who Samson is but I'm pretty sure I'll be sweet, my hair doesn't stop me from playing football. Only people pulling it makes me angrier," he said.
To donate and help the Titans reach their goal of $40,000, visit www.titans.com.au
or click here
to go directly to the World's Greatest Shave page.