What Hayne signing means for Titans
NRL.com takes a closer look at what the signing of Jarryd Hayne means for the Gold Coast Titans on and off the field.
When news broke of a drugs scandal involving as many as half a dozen Titans-contracted players in February last year, club benefactor and board member Darryl Kelly admitted that he suffered pains in the stomach and was close to tears.
On Wednesday, as Jarryd Hayne walked past on his way to taking centre stage at a press conference at Gold Coast Airport, Kelly stood back in wonder at how far the club had come in such a short space of time.
As Titans officials were preparing to parade the greatest signing coup in the club's history on Wednesday morning, Gold Coast business leaders attending a breakfast at Bond University were abuzz at how Hayne's presence on the Gold Coast would transfer to the broader community.
Many Titans fans will be waking up on Thursday morning in disbelief that one of this country's highest profile athletes could be playing for their team this Sunday and that their club – not so long ago considered almost helpless – now sits among the Telstra Premiership's heavy hitters.
How it happened
The Titans went all-in to sign Daly Cherry-Evans from Manly in March last year and when he back-flipped three months later the club wisely decided not to throw good money after bad. Coach Neil Henry kept some big chips up his sleeve and when the possibility of Hayne returning to the NRL became a reality the Titans were one of few clubs in a position to pounce.
Rather than spending to the extent of their salary cap in 2016 the Titans waited patiently and the ability to offer Hayne the chance to make his return this season was crucial in securing his signature at 10pm on Tuesday night in his Gold Coast hotel room following 18 hours of final negotiations.
"It's been a year where we've been able to get players through design by having space available in the cap and positions [in the playing roster] so in the end it's turned out great for the club," said Henry.
Said Hayne: "At the end of the day I wanted to play footy this year and the way that the board is at Parra and the things that have gone on there this year, we couldn't get something done. It's sad and it hurts me just as much as I know it hurts the fans down there.
"In the coming days when I get around the guys and get the boots back on that will settle and I'll be able to smile and move forward.
"That was one of the key indicators of me coming up here, wanting to play footy and play with the guys and under Neil. That was huge and something that I was able to do up here and something I'm excited about.
"They've got a great roster, unlucky against the Sharks on Monday night and hopefully moving forward I can add something to the team."
What Hayne brings to the football team
Since taking over towards the end of the 2014 season Henry has been searching for a fullback that could offer ball-playing options so important in the modern game.
Co-captain Will Zillman is a great runner who has been beset by injuries while David Mead is noted more for his powerful running game than linking with his outside men. Hayne's presence will immediately draw attention from defenders and create time and space for the centres and wingers who have been in such good form of late. Not to mention his broken-field running that has dominated highlight reels in his time in the NRL.
But there is also risk associated with throwing such a dominant player into a team that has been performing so well with their existing attacking structures. The playmaking balance between halves Tyrone Roberts and Ashley Taylor will be impacted by the introduction of Hayne as Henry wrestles with how to incorporate a player of rare talent into a team fighting to stay in finals contention.
"This is to another level. It adds a strike player to our roster and we've been going OK," Henry said enthusiastically.
"We shouldn't be too quick to put expectations on performances because Jarryd's been out of the game for quite a while.
"He's been able to adapt to the environment of NFL and cut it over there which is something that is uncharted territory for league players.
"We expect him to be a big part of our team moving forward and to fit in to what we're trying to achieve here and be part of that."
"They've been on the bubble for a couple of years and this year with the roster they've built, they're going to have a really strong push for the finals," said Hayne. "I'm excited to join the guys and see what we can do.
"I never thought I'd join another club and never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I'd be up on the Gold Coast but everything happens for a reason.
"A part of me is sad because I'm not going to go back to the club that I grew up with and that I loved as a kid but there's the excitement of joining the Titans and knowing what they're about and being a part of that.
"It's a great roster and very honoured and blessed to be up here."
What Hayne brings to the club
Along with Sonny Bill Williams, Greg Inglis and Johnathan Thurston, Hayne is one of only a handful of NRL stars who have been able to move the needle from rugby league into the broader sporting landscape in Australia in recent years. He moved to America on little more than a whim and did so with the backing of the Australian public who recognised that this was an opportunity to do something extraordinary and Aussies who had never watched a game of NFL made his jersey the most popular in America's most heavily supported sport.
That a player of his profile – with his own clothing label – has chosen the Titans immediately elevates Gold Coast into a broader consciousness that will not only make Hayne attractive to sponsors but also the high-performing teammates around him.
His signature brings credibility and a magnetism that transcends the game itself and attracts even part-time footy fans of all ages and demographics.
The mere possibility that Hayne might play on Sunday will ensure the Titans attract more than 20,000 fans for just the second time this season and if word gets out that he is definitely going to be making an NRL return, there may be very few seats left come kick-off.
"There's no doubt that this is an enormous boost for the club commercially," said Titans CEO Graham Annesley, who credited the team's on-field performance in 2016 for a greater sense of community engagement.
"It's definitely going to generate more membership interest in the club, more corporate support for the club. Of course that's part of the reason we were interested in a player like Jarryd but quite apart from the fact that he's an outstanding footballer.
"Jarryd is a household name right throughout the country regardless of which sport you follow so to have him on board as a key member of our playing roster and the additional interest that will generate… Jarryd is a proven turnstile-clicker, people come to games to watch Jarryd play, he's an impact player and makes a major difference to the teams that he plays for.
"We're really looking forward to the benefits that will flow from having Jarryd with us both on and off the field."
How Hayne handled day one as a Titan
Many were critical of the emotive language Hayne used in talking about the only NRL club he has played for to date, the Parramatta Eels, during his first appearance as a Titan.
When he left the game almost two years ago he vowed to return to the blue and gold but even though he had seen the inner workings of the club first-hand he could not have envisaged the mess it would become.
So rather than deflecting questions pertaining to Parramatta on Wednesday as he sat in an airport hangar with questions being shouted at him over the noise of helicopters lifting into the air, Hayne used words such as "devastating" and "sad" that he was not making his NRL return at the Eels.
"I know a lot of people are going to be hurt by this decision and in a way I'm sorry because that club does mean a lot to me as I know it means a lot to people in western Sydney," Hayne said.
Every reason to join the Titans appeared to be as a result of why he couldn't go back to Parramatta but honesty in such circumstance should be appreciated, not derided.
Players close to Hayne have spoken to NRL.com about his genuine affection for the Eels and he wasn't afraid to display it in an extremely public way.
Henry to his credit praised the loyalty Hayne still felt to Parramatta and the club's fans and can now only hope that over the next two years he feels the same affection for the Gold Coast and its people.
He brings pressure to a team that has been quite happily flying under the radar but he is a rare individual capable of standing confidently in front of a bank of cameras and journalists and absorbing it to the point where he owns the moment.
All eyes are now on the Titans but it is a spotlight they need to welcome if they are to join Hayne in the stratosphere of rugby league's elite.