For anyone that has followed my writing over the years, you’ll know a couple of things. First, that I am a mad Parramatta Eels fan.
Second, that I love Clint Gutherson.
And third, that I have never really been a big fan of Jarryd Hayne.
Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate his talent. And certainly, as an Eels fan, I always felt grateful that I was given the opportunity to watch this young man develop into a fine footballer and grow up in front of my very eyes.
But as a fan, I like underdogs.
While these players do not have as much natural talent as the superstars of our game, I have greater respect for players that work hard both on and off the field – players like Clinton Schifcofske, Brett Hodgson, Jeff Robson, Shane Shackleton, Matt Keating, Ben Smith and David Gower.
More often than not, these players were always striving to be better and grateful simply for the opportunity to play rugby league – an opportunity that they did not take for granted.
Jarryd made his debut for the Eels back in 2006. In the early years, I was ambivalent towards him, but grew increasingly in awe of his talent – particularly in 2009 when his efforts almost single-handedly got Parramatta through to a grand final.
That was his standout season. The Eels didn’t achieve much in the years that followed.
At the end of the 2014 season, Jarryd made the announcement that he would leave the Eels immediately to head to the United States to pursue his dream in the NFL. At that point, I wished him well and admired the courage he had to pursue a dream in what is a very tough sporting market.
While he was in the United States, I kept track of his progress and was very impressed when he managed to gain selection for the San Francisco 49ers despite having played the sport far less than countless others who were pushing for their own opportunity.
It was great to see local talent doing so well, particularly for a dream that he had taken a big risk for.
From admiration though, things took a more sour note when Jarryd announced he was coming back to the NRL to play for the Gold Coast Titans in 2016.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have sour grapes because I wanted Jarryd back at the Eels. Quite the opposite – I didn’t want him back because I felt like the Eels as a club had moved on.
It was all about character. Before Jarryd left the Eels, he made it clear that if he ever came back to the NRL it would be to the Eels. On his return in 2016, he also said that he wanted to come back to the Eels, but they didn’t make him an offer.
Perhaps what he should have said was that the Eels made him an offer… just one that wasn’t big enough. And that was fine. Players have limited careers and need to maximise their earning potential.
But I wish players would just be honest when making financial decisions about their future.
When it was announced that Jarryd was coming back home to the Eels this year, it took me a while to process it. But, Brad Arthur is a man that I have trusted to lead my team through some of our darkest days.
I trusted his judgement and was confident that Jarryd would need to fit in with existing team structures and would not be given an opportunity to disrupt what the Eels had created last year.
I also knew that the Eels were committed to players like Clint Gutherson and that Hayne’s presence did not mean that Gutho’s importance was lessened.
Heading into the season, my feelings about Hayne changed once again.
For the first time in my life, I felt sorry for him. The catalyst for this change was all the talk in the media about his performance at pre-season. Remember when he reportedly finished last in a five-kilometre time trial and it was the talk of the town?
I thought it was exceptionally unfair (at that point) to use his pre-season performance at training as such a big predictor of how he would go this season. I thought he at least deserved a chance to provide himself.
I have watched Jarryd throughout this year. Unfortunately, he has spent a lot of time injured. However, he has been able to string a couple of games together towards the back end of the year and I have been pleasantly surprised.
He will never again be that player that almost single-handedly guided the Eels to a grand final in 2009 ever again. He is much older and has lost some of his pace. But throughout this year I have seen glimpses of that talented teenager I admired all those years ago.
His game against the Titans a few weeks ao certainly stood out to me where he scored a try on the left edge and then help to set up another. In the past, Jarryd has also been criticised for his defence – it was pleasing in this game. Five metres out he wrapped up Kevin Proctor who almost looked certain to score.
I also remember when I first started seeing glimpses – back in July with his performance against the Knights where his sidestep came out of retirement and he demonstrated that he still has some speed.
Last week, the news broke that the Eels will offer Hayne a new contract at the end of the season. At the start of the year I didn’t think I would say this – but given Hayne’s form over the last couple of weeks, I’m very supportive of the move.
Here is what I know. I know that Jarryd did not get a full pre-season this year due to niggling injuries. That would have impacted his fitness and I imagine had an impact on his form at the start of the year.
But we have seen glimpses and I have every confidence that with a full pre-season, Jarryd will be able to add value to what will be a new look backline.
We know that Jarryd is not on big money either and for the right amount, I see no harm in giving him one more year. For the first time, I am willing to take a risk on him and would be comfortable having him as part of the team.
In the back of my mind, I still truly believe that if Jarryd is going to play good footy somewhere, it is going to be for the Eels. And what a sight it would be to see Hayne have one more year and be given the opportunity to help the club christen its brand new stadium.