This article was first written for and published by The Roar.
If reports are to be believed, there’s a plane on its way from the Gold Coast to Parramatta and its arrival is imminent.
Following the announcement by the Gold Coast Titans on Thursday afternoon that Jarryd Hayne had officially been released from the final year of his contract, it now looks to be a foregone conclusion that Hayne will be returning to his home, the Parramatta Eels for a one-year deal on a reported $500,000.
As a passionate Parramatta fan, everyone wants to know how I am feeling ahead of any official announcement.
I would be lying to all of you if I said this decision made me feel comfortable. In fact, I feel extremely uncomfortable about the likelihood of Hayne returning.
When Jarryd left the Eels at the end of 2014, he left with my well wishes and full support. I had had the opportunity to watch this man grow up from an 18-year old rookie into one of the greatest players our game has ever seen right in front of my very eyes.
He left my club to pursue his dream. He left what was comfortable to take a chance, with no guarantee of success and I respected him for it. He also said that if he ever returned to playing footy, it would be with the Eels.
My opinion on Hayne increasingly soured after he decided to return home with an interest in returning to the NRL (via Fiji to chance his arm at making the rugby sevens team).
When Hayne signed with the Titans, it not only flew in the face of what he had said about returning home to Parramatta if he ever came back to the NRL, but he also had the audacity to allege that Parramatta had not made him an offer. From what I understand, Hayne simply wasn’t brave enough to say what we all knew – that he went to the Gold Coast for the money.
But it turns out that Hayne leaving the Eels was the best thing that could have happened.
Since the Hayne Plane took off, plenty has changed at Parramatta. Players have come and gone. The club has had varying degrees of success on the field. The club went through a salary cap saga that brought it to its knees in 2016.
During that year, I learnt more about the men at my club than I could have ever hoped for. Despite the walls closing in around them, the Eels showed a tenacity and resilience on the field that had been sorely lacking in previous seasons. Led by coach Brad Arthur and captain Tim Mannah, the men in blue and gold continued to play for each other – because that was all they had left.
After the club burned itself down from the inside out, small shoots of life began to spring from the ashes in 2017.
A new CEO. Making the finals for the first time since 2009. Talent like Clint Gutherson, Mitchell Moses, Bevan French and Cameron King. The fans returning in droves and having faith and confidence in their club again.
The Eels were once again the pride of Parramatta and with Jarryd gone, other players had the opportunity to mature and grow up.
No longer were we a team that just threw the ball to Hayne and hoped for the best. The players no longer had him to depend on, so others finally stepped up and began to develop as playmakers in their own right.
Re-signing Jarryd Hayne feels like we are going backwards, not forwards. It feels like this will stifle the positivity and energy that surrounded the club this year, particularly if you believe the rumours that Jarryd Hayne is a disease. A coach killer. Lazy. A bad trainer. Arrogant.
I want my club to continue to go forward, not backward and I’m finding it really hard to understand how signing Jarryd helps our club move forward.
But here’s the thing about supporting a team – it isn’t rational and I have very little control over the decisions that make my club tick. Supporting a team doesn’t make sense. I essentially support a blue and gold jersey, no matter who is in that jersey.
If Jarryd puts pen to paper, he again becomes one of my own. And I must take a deep breath and trust the process.
What gives me comfort at this stage is that for the last couple of years, I have had every confidence in Brad Arthur. Up until this moment I have trusted him with one of the most important things in my life – my footy club – and he has not disappointed me.
My hope is that it was Brad’s decision to take Jarryd back and that some very strict conditions have been imposed on his return.
Jarryd must come into the Eels knowing that this is no longer his team. He is the one who is privileged to have the opportunity to wear the blue and gold jersey again alongside players like Tim Mannah, Nathan Brown and Manu Ma’u. There is also a new king in town – his name is Clint – and Jarryd will need to fall into line.
I hope that no ill-discipline will be tolerated and that Jarryd will be treated like every other player. If he isn’t interested in training, he can sit on the bench. If he isn’t interested in being part of the team, then he can play for the Wentworthville Magpies.
Arthur has demonstrated through players like Nathan Brown that he really does have an ability to bring out the best in players that others have given up on. He helps them to develop discipline, commitment and take their game to the next level. I hope he can help Jarryd do this consistently and every week.
I still have plenty of questions ahead. Where will Jarryd play? Will this only be for one year? Does this mean we will lose Clint Gutherson? Does Jarryd really want to come home?
And I am still uncomfortable.
But for the moment, if Brad Arthur is willing to take a leap of faith, then I’m ready to jump with him.
If I had the opportunity to tell Jarryd anything it would be this.
Jarryd, this really is your last opportunity. Many in the rugby league world think you are past it and that this decision is a mistake on the Eels’ part. That talent you had when you are 18 – it’s still there, just waiting for you to unleash it.
Don’t waste this opportunity. Don’t make the club that believes in you look foolish. The fans have been through enough already. We want you, but we only want you at your best.
And if you are ready to be at your best, welcome home. Now show us what you can do.