Gagai's Origin dream hits home
If Dane Gagai was in danger of being consumed by Origin adoration ahead of his Queensland debut next Wednesday night, there were a few special people in the throng of Maroons supporters in Proserpine on Tuesday ready to bring him back into line.
Some 6,000 people lined Main Street in Proserpine in North Queensland for the Maroons' annual fan day in a response that Queensland Rugby League chairman Peter Betros said had "blown all the other ones I've been to out of the water".
Born in nearby Mackay, Gagai was the local hero as the Maroons descended on North Queensland and had to be prised away from eager young fans pushing jerseys, hats and a pen in his direction as he made his way through the enormous crowd.
Although his father Ray, a member of the inaugural Broncos' squad and a local league legend, was unable to attend, Gagai said that the presence of some special family members was always a great leveller ahead of the biggest game of his career.
"My family bring me down to earth. They made the trip down here and it's always good seeing them and any excuse to get up this way is a good one," Gagai told NRL.com.
"Dad couldn't be here but Mum, Nana, sister, aunty and uncle and a few little cousins, they made the trip from Mackay.
"[The size of the crowd] is full-on but it's obviously good to see the support. They turned out in numbers even though the weather hasn't been that great, but everyone's turned up in good numbers to show their support.
"Just hoping we can get the job done next Wednesday."
The concept of a Maroons fan day in a regional centre that had fallen on tough times was initially the brainchild of coach Mal Meninga and according to Betros, impacts the members of the Queensland team just as much as it does the locals who turn out in their thousands.
"They never get to see these players except on television and to be able to bring our very best Queensland Rugby League players to a place like Proserpine or any of the regional areas is very special," Betros said.
"People can get up close, get a photo, get an autograph, say g'day to them, I think it does an enormous amount of good in these places but I think it also does the players a world of good.
"They live in a very privileged environment. They're well paid and they're professional sportspeople and I think it's good to come and engage with the fans at close contact like this.
"They then respect them and how people feel about them and the support of these places is fantastic."
As Dylan Napa did at the announcement of the squad for Game One, Gagai fell victim to some Johnathan Thurston hijinks as the team got off the plane and also as they entered the airport but said his past experience in Origin camps had prepared him well.
"To be honest I felt a part of this team when I first came into camp just because of how all the boys are and how tight the group is," said the Knights centre.
"Once you come away on a trip like this with the boys you get the initiation and you start down the bottom but the boys are unbelievable.
"Mal did a great job weaning me through the process and brought me into the first two Origins but to actually be a part of the team now where I'm actually going to chuck on the jersey and play for them still hasn't really hit home yet.
"I'm sure that will start kicking in as we get closer to Wednesday night."
Video courtesy of qrl.com.au