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Pride in Payne: Family, faith and SBW behind Haas's rise to Blues history

From Queensland’s junior system, jerseys presented by Jonathan Thurston and training under Wayne Bennett’s watch, to the least experienced NSW debutant in Origin history.

A four-game ban, five-figure fine and the NRL Integrity Unit. Now Islam, Ramadan and Sonny Bill Williams.

Homespun hill sprints and backyard time trials. Then 50,000 XXXX-fuelled Queenslanders and rugby league’s most spine-tingling stage.

Fifteen minutes with softly spoken, man child mountain Payne Haas, and you still only scratch the surface.

Warts and all though, it’s all there. And all the way, a family of 12 that drives everything this 194cm, 119kg teenager does.

Older brother Chase – who became a quadriplegic after the high-speed car crash from which Payne was named almost two decades ago.

Dad Gregor, who would drop his children "four, six, eight kilometres from home", and time their run back behind the family minibus.

Mum Joan, who "came from nothing", but has given everything to have him realise his rugby league dream.

"This is a credit to my parents," Haas says on his first day in NSW camp.

"This ain't just me. This is my parents, all the hard work that they've put into me. I'm just repaying them by making teams like this.

"We've gone through it together from a young age and I can't put into words how much this means for Chase and for me.

"This is my reward to my whole family. We've been through a lot from (when we were) kids.

"From a young age dad was saying that I would play Origin one day. I think that's why dad was so harsh on me at a young age, he treated us different from other kids. We had to train hard.

"Instead of getting lollies or ice cream, we would be running around, but it's all happening now.

"I didn't grow up with much. My parents didn't grow up with much, I just want to repay them and show them how much their work has paid off.

"My mum, especially, she came from nothing. This is just a way of me giving back to them, showing her what she did for me."

The past few months alone, Haas and his family have been through plenty, and there's plenty more to come.

Breaking down the Blues' Origin I team

This week Joan will face sentencing after being charged with assault occasioning bodily harm from a road rage incident on the Gold Coast last year.

Off-field incidents involving his family, and Haas’s failure to co-operate with the NRL Integrity Unit’s investigation into them, cost him $20,000 and four games to start the year with Brisbane.

Haas hears the reports, the comments, and knows what’s at stake for those that matter most while he is in Blues camp.

"It's hard when people talk about my mum and dad, that gets a bit tough," he says.

"But my mum and dad are pretty strong people. They always try to back me and I'm always trying to back them too.

"They just tell me 'don't worry about the stuff that's going on with us. Just keep on working hard, put your head down and just focus on your goals. Just be you'."

Haas credits his recent conversion to Islam for that focus.

Broncos prop Payne Haas.
Broncos prop Payne Haas. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

His face plastered on the nightly news for his younger brothers and sisters to see, his off-field dramas sparked his dramatic overhaul.

He now abstains from alcohol, and while he continues observing Ramadan, food and even water from sunrise to sunset.

"I had no religion beforehand. But I've been following Islam for a bit," Haas says.

"I felt like I was going down the wrong path a bit, probably at the end of last year. I felt like I needed a change. I went to Islam, I found it and it's taught me a lot.

"It just made sense to have good people around me. I know people who are Muslim too and they've taught me a lot."

His new faith means a 4:30am rise for "oats or protein" and "a lot of water so I’m well hydrated", with the Islamic holiday ending a day before his Origin debut.

Right there with him is three-code champion Sonny Bill Williams.

With Williams one of few to enjoy as immediate impact at such a young age, and experience similar trials and tribulations that come with it, Haas treasures their friendship.

"I speak to Sonny, Sonny's a real good brother of mine," Haas says.

"He's always messaging me, making sure I'm alright. He's always providing good guidance for me.

"I'm learning off one of the best ever to do it. He's giving me life advice, I ask more things about life. But he's always messaging me, asking how I am.

"Telling me ‘Just be yourself. Don't change for nobody. Just be yourself."

Haas is a New South Welshman. Doggedly so. But not before first tasting representative footy as a Queenslander.

 
 
 
 
 
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Just a meet up with my mate JT

A post shared by Payne Haas (@lege_era0) on

Had he and his family moved to the Sunshine State a year or too earlier, the maroon he first wore aged 14 could well have been permanent.

"I was actually in the QAS system at one stage," he grins.

"I was 14 when I went there, I was there for one year but I always wanted to play for NSW. As soon as I got chosen for NSW I knew that's where my heart was.

"Wayne Bennett was around then, he did come in for a few training sessions then. It didn't feel right though."

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