Ingram fights to keep NRL dream alive
He has fought back from two knee reconstructions, bouts of depression and two years out of the game altogether but Jai Ingram insists his NRL dream won't live or die by what happens in Saturday's trial with the Titans.
Ingram is one of four players named in the Titans team to play the Warriors who have spent the pre-season doing all the torturous work with no guarantees of anything beyond the end of February.
Over the summer months Ingram, Agnatius Paasi, Damian Sironen and Leva Li have been earning the minimum wage of $850 a week in the hope that they might show Gold Coast coach Neil Henry enough for him to offer one of two vacant spots on the roster for 2015.
With most teams expected to field near full-strength line-ups for their final trial matches on the weekend of February 21-22, whatever game time these players get in Toowoomba on Saturday could define the immediate path that their careers take.
While attending the famed rugby league school St Brendan's in Yeppoon, Ingram was signed to a contract by the Cowboys on more money than any 16-year-old knows what to do with and by the time he was 20 had spent time at both the Storm and the Bulldogs.
He underwent a full reconstruction on his right knee in Melbourne before going off the rails and when handed a lifeline by Canterbury had his world come crashing down when his left knee suffered a similar fate in a trial game early in 2012.
"Because of the injuries I got at Melbourne, I was so young and I was so close, and for me when my right knee blew out my dream was over," Ingram told NRL.com.
"I didn't have the support around me to realise that I could rehabilitate it and get back on my feet. My career was over.
"Back then I didn't see it but it was a bit of depression. I was sad... and I got stuck in that hole.
"When I was [at the Bulldogs] I was by myself and I actually had to catch a bus to get my knee reconstructed. After surgery I had no way of getting home so I caught the bus again and actually had to crutch a kilometre just after having my left knee reconstructed and in a brace.
"It was just tough times for me, and I chose to quit.
"For me it was a breakdown part of my life. I didn't know what I was going to do with my life. I can understand now how some boys could struggle because when you're so young and you're offered the world, you get it all taken away from you by injuries and there's nothing you can do about it.
"I didn't want to go back home, I didn't want to go back to a small place in Hervey Bay but I honestly had no other option."
It's a sobering tale of a young career once hanging by a thread but which may still have a happy ending, largely due to the influence of the woman who would become Ingram's wife last October and the mother of their seven-week old baby boy.
Ingram met Tess when he returned home to Hervey Bay in 2012 and was working as a personal trainer. It was the influence of Tess and his mother that inspired him to see whether the football career he appeared destined to fulfil could still become a reality, leaving Hervey Bay behind so he could return to the Intrust Super Cup in 2014 first with Easts and then Norths Devils following a mid-season switch.
"My wife pulled me out of a hole. When I met her my life turned around. She was the turning point in my life," the 23-year-old said.
"If I didn't meet my wife, I don't know where I'd be right now. I don't think I would be here if it wasn't for meeting my wife.
"She's given me hope when I thought I'd lost everything and if footy doesn't work out, considering a couple of years ago I thought my life was pretty much over, if footy doesn't work out now I've got them.
"I hope it works out because it sure is fun training and hanging out with these boys every day."
Ingram got his first real taste of the big time when playing in two of three games for the Titans at last week's Auckland Nines and while he may have missed out on scoring a try in front of 40,000 fans, believes the experience will hold him in good stead against the Warriors.
"I'll tell you this much, I've never been more nervous for anything in my life," Ingram said.
"With my past and injuries and everything, I sort of did my own head in before I even went out there.
"I was thinking, I've come so far, what if I run out here and something goes on me? It actually made me that nervous that I threw up, and I've never thrown up before.
"I've put the jersey on twice now and it does take a lot of the nerves away for this weekend. I'm not going to go out there and try to be a superstar or do anything fancy; I just want to have good carries.
"My job is to run a line on the half and I'm going to do that all day and try not to make any errors in defence."
The Titans play the Warriors this weekend before facing the Cowboys in another trial match in Cairns on February 21.