French on 2017 finals heartache
Brad Takairangi has heard the hoopla around his Parramatta Eels teammate Jarryd Hayne, whose backside dragged in the sand dunes of Soldier's Beach while his 43-year-old coach cartwheeled through a pre-season fitness run.
He's heard the old tales of Parramatta's prodigal son too, whose one-time captain Nathan Hindmarsh has wondered aloud and often about Hayne's well-worn disappearing act when training grew especially tough.
The same rumours and innuendo dogged Hayne during his ill-fated stint at the Gold Coast Titans that was terminated 12 months early, while coach Neil Henry's was just plain terminated.
But Takaraingi, whose shift to the second row in 2018 frees up a spot out wide for the incumbent NSW Origin centre, is seeing a different reality to the perception long-held when it comes to Hayne.
"We've heard all the stories about how Haynesy used to train in the day and that, but honestly if you came and spent a week with us now, Hindy wouldn't recognise him," Takairangi told NRL.com.
"He does everything and gives it his all. He's doing all the contact sessions, he's doing all the fitness and not pulling out of anything, and that's all the boys ask of each other.
"As long as he's putting in, he's got the boys' respect and he's doing that."
And as for the now infamous Central Coast sandhill run in which Brad Arthur and his teenage son Matt leave Hayne for dead?
"I know there's been a lot of press about him running last in that run and BA (Arthur) beating him.
"But BA beat most of us, he beat me, he was near the top five! So it wasn't just Haynesy that got done, it was a lot of us.
"(Hayne's) attitude has been really good and we know he's ripping in. He might not be the fittest but we can see that he's having a dig and that's all we ask of him.
"When it comes to the ball work, that's when he's top three with what he offers. His skills have been so sharp and you wouldn't know that he's coming last in fitness because he's killing the ball stuff."
When Hayne was finally confirmed as on his way home back in December, pundits were puzzled as to where he would fit in the Eels backline, which was understandable given Takairangi and Michael Jennings's combination in the centres, and the promise shown by Clint Gutherson and Bevan French at the back.
But far from being a casualty of Hayne's homecoming, Takairangi's move into the forwards was a precursor.
In the aftermath of Parramatta's first finals series since 2009, which ended in a disappointing straight-sets disposal by eventual grand finalists Melbourne and North Queensland, Arthur and Takairangi agreed his future lay in the back row.
"Since coming back to training I've been training in the second-row and getting used to the workload," Takairangi said.
"Nothing's set in stone, but Brad and I had a talk as soon as we got kicked out of the semis last year and both agreed that it was time to go into the second row.
"Coming from the centres it's the toughest place to defend decision wise, moving in-field it's just about getting used to those repeat efforts and having to make three, four tackles in a row.
"A lot of the time in the centres you can be sitting out there waiting for the ball to come to you.
"Unless it's a dry day and we're pushing those shifts you actually don't get that much ball out there.
"As a back-rower you can have more of an influence on the game, you're closer to the action so that's the aim, to get me more involved and helping the team out that way."
Takairangi is tipping the scales at 110kg and aiming to drop a few before the season starts, rather than add any more size to his 28-year-old frame as he competes with Tepai Moeroa, Kenny Edwards, Beau Scott and Manu Ma'u for playing time.
It also has the potential to cruel his chances at another crack with the Kiwis after he made his Test debut at centre in last year's World Cup.
"I didn't even think about that side of things to be honest," Takairangi said.
"I think if I'm playing good footy for Parra and the team's playing well that rep footy stuff looks after itself.
"We've got another four back-rowers who have all been great for the club over the last few years, so it's pretty full on at training with everyone ripping in and gunning for a starting spot."