Why the #HaynePlane landing at Coolangatta is the shot in the arm @GCTitans and @NRL needed

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(Star acquisition. Jarryd Hayne once an Eel, now a Titan. Photo courtesy of https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/aug/03/jarryd-hayne-to-sign-record-deal-with-gold-coast-titans-in-return-to-nrl#img-1)

About 18 months ago, the fledging, embattled Gold Coast Titans franchise were treading water. Financially, they were a club in ruins with next to no revenue coming in and were haemorrhaging expenditure. So dire the situation was, the NRL had to step in as the club went into administration with the game’s governing body taking full control of the business; just as the Game did with Newcastle and to a lesser extent St George Illawarra and Wests. The Titans were damaged goods, a tarnished brand, a commercial disaster. No prospective investor nor off contract player would dare even contemplate going near the joint. It would have be horrible business sense and career suicide for any athlete.

The chorus rang strong from many within the rugby league fraternity that the Titans were doomed. Yet another failure, after subsequent franchises before them had also been (Giants, Seagulls, Gladiators and Chargers) that Rugby League would never work, never prosper, never survive on the glamour strip of South-East Queensland. Many were starting to think and buy into this line of thinking and mentality, that the Game would be better off investing in a new market then persisting with a football club in a region that has had three decades of failure. Prospective Central Queensland NRL Bid consortium even suggested of taking over the club and sharing Home Games between Mackay and Robina. Even the Central Coast Bears expressed an interest in a partnership.

I have been one of a few who has been a strong advocate for persisting with a NRL presence on the Gold Coast as written previously https://dwatsonhayes.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/why-rugbyleague-needs-and-owes-the-gold-coast-gctitans-thrunthru-nrl-iwillneverwalkaway-titans/ The Gold Coast is a vital cog in the NRL’s long term vision and strategy of having a national footprint right across Australia. The Gold Coast shores up a Rugby League presence right along the east coast, stretching from Townsville right down to Melbourne. To walk away from that would give Rugby League’s opponents a free kick at the region’s population (the largest growth area in Australia) and 7,000 plus juniors who are aspiring to be Titans.

But 12 months on, the dark, bleak and uncertain times are all but over. Brighter days are not only ahead but are already as visible as a sunrise on Surfers Paradise beach. The Titans have re-built from the bottom up through sheer blood, sweat and tears. Respective channels and levers of revenue are up. Gate receipts have doubled compared to 2015. Membership has increased tenfold. Commercially, their jersey and kit is worth millions of dollars. The Gold Coast strip is full of sponsors, a sign that the organisation is once again an attractive commodity that companies are happy to align their brand and business with.

With space in their cap and money to throw at a star, the Titans went all out to sign Manly pivot Daly Cherry-Evans in 2015. After a farcical chain of events, months of rumour and innuendo brought on about through a ridiculous ‘cooling off period’ which enabled players to renege on a contract signed in good faith (apparently) DCE played the Titans to bump up his asking price at Manly and the Sea Eagles offer trumped the Gold Coast. $10 Million for 10 years. The negative for the Titans was that they had made recruitment decisions to both retain players and let go personnel on the prized signature of Cherry-Evans.

1433334913704(The ultimate backflip. DCE reneges on deal with Titans. Photo courtesy of http://www.smh.com.au)

His backflip sent the Titans into further disarray. Not only would DCE bring on-field expertise and leadership, he is a high profiled athlete in the NRL, who would have created a flow on effect of attracting other players to the franchise and increased the off field opportunities for greater fanfare and support as well as attracting new sponsors to get on board with the Gold Coast. Back to square one and no real light at the end of what was becoming an incredibly long tunnel. Whilst the front office was now in order, the football department was a different story. Coach Neil Henry left to pull together a team with virtually no stars, no big name attractions, no strike weapons. To make matters worse, a contract bungle saw live-wire centre James Roberts walk out and sign with big brother the Broncos. The Titans on paper lack the quality of a playing roster like their top 4, top 8 counterparts are blessed with. Until the 3rd August 2016.

This date will forever be significant in the Titans history as a Rugby League Club. Having faired better than pundits and so called experts had them travelling in Season 2016, many had the Gold Coast sitting at the bottom of the ladder, odds on favourites to collect the dreaded wooden spoon. But credit to Coach ‘King’ Henry and his young group of misfits, discards and has beens who currently reside in the Top 8 after 21 Rounds of the Telstra Premiership. Performing and matching it with the best with their roster has been an outstanding effort with many predicting big things for a lot of the young guns that Neil Henry has been forced to throw a jersey at because of injuries and an inability to recruit big name players.

But are they a legitimate Premiership contender? A threat to the likes of  competition leaders Cronulla or reigning Premiers Nth QLD Cowboys? 4 days ago you would put the house on the Gold Coast being next to no chance of appearing on Grand Final Day or even scrapping into the Finals. But anyone who has a vested interest in the Game will tell you, a week is a very long time in Rugby League. So much so, no one could have predicted what was about to unfold and take place that will no doubt change the Titans course of history forever. With corporate support, a membership base growing week by week, a bunch of kids making a name for themselves in one of most competitive and largest sports in the southern hemisphere, a new training and administration base close to completion, what could be the final piece of the puzzle for the Gold Coast?

HaynePlane(The Hayne Plane in full flight, during the Eels magic run in 2009. Photo courtesy of http://www.thecoconet.tv/assets/img/Jarryd%20Hayne/HaynePlane.jpg)

Enter one amazing athlete. A name, a player, a brand that is recognised on the world stage.  A freakish talent that has proven he is more than a Rugby League player, he is a certified enigma who defied the odds of making it in a foreign country, in a complex foreign sport. Jarryd Hayne. The larger than life, somewhat arrogant, yet amazingly gifted specimen jetted into the Gold Coast to become the Titans latest signing after mid-ear acquisitions in former NZ Warriors outside back Konrad Hurrell and Hayne’s former Eels teammate Nathan Peats after Parramatta was forced to release the feisty No.9 due to their Salary Cap breaches. This was a signing that no one saw coming. Not even the ardent Titans fans would have ever have imagined or envisaged the Gold Coast announcing a player of the calibre of Jarryd Hayne.

The Rugby League world went into shock. Fans were stunned. Social media went into meltdown. Parramatta Eels supporters were and still are filled with rage and disappointment, whilst Gold Coast fans cannot believe their luck that their club, the same club that was on its knees, looking at being wound up and relocated, had now a Test, Origin and NFL athlete on its books. Surreal would be just one superlative Titans fans would be using to describe this amazing coup for the once struggling franchise. I would imagine many are still pinching themselves at the thought of Hayne running out at CBUS Super Stadium at Robina.

The fans, the members, the community, the entire Gold Coast region needed something. After the administrative woes and uncertainty of their future, an off field drug scandal brewing, the lack of on field success, a rising star walking out and the final kick in the guts with DCE turning his back on the club, Titans fans and Rugby League supporters on the Coast must of been thinking when would the hits stop coming? One disaster after another. “What next?” many would have been thinking. “When are we going to get a break? A slice of luck?” Whoever doubted that the Rugby League God’s do not exist, better think again. Enter Jarryd Hayne.

Not only will Hayne bring x-factor and attacking prowess making the Titans even more competitive than what they have already proven to be in Season 2016, Hayne will bring star power off the field. In the past 3 days alone, Hayne has reportedly generated $100,000 across ticket sales, memberships and merchandise and he’s yet to play a game. Only star’s have the sort of impact. His appeal is infectious. A natural athlete with an abundance of raw talent, Hayne not only is the sort of player that makes fans sit on the end of their chairs and progress to their feet with every run, every touch of the ball, his confident ego, his swagger makes him the perfect billboard for businesses to have him endorsing their respective goods and services.

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(More than an athlete. Hayne announcing his contract with the 49ers NFL Franchise.
Photo courtesy of http://www.youunlimited.com.au)

Hayne is not just an extraordinary athlete. He has transformed himself into a brand. An international brand at that. A brand that commands interest, both from the media and business who watch his every move, wait on his every word, hoping he can help fill the news cycle and align himself with companies, helping to endorse and promote products or services. He is much smarter than he looks. In a short space of time, Hayne has proven to be a lateral thinker, an individual who sees the bigger picture and life outside the sporting bubble. He is trend setter in many ways. A cunning businessman in boots if you like. Hayne marches to the beat of his own drum.

Gordon Tallis, now a Titans Ambassador, has labelled the signing of Jarryd Hayne bigger than the prize signing of Wally ‘The King’ Lewis by the Gold Coast back in 1992. Lewis, one of the game’s 8 immortals, a Queensland and Australian Rugby League legend was a major coup for the Seagulls (previous Gold Coast franchise 1990-95). Hayne certainly does trump Lewis’ signature for an array of reasons. His journey over the past 2 years has been one of amazing feats and achievements. His ability to risk it all,  walk away from his comfort zone, adapt and make the cut in a foreign sport was a fairytale, resulting in his popularity, name and brand become well renowned both domestically and abroad. That brings massive attention, collateral and interest, especially financially which will go an incredibly long way and assisting the Gold Coast club achieve success and sustainability as a sporting organisation.

But also from a development perspective. Not only will every young Titans fan in Nerang, Robina, Burleigh, Mermaid Beach, Southport, Helensvale be wanting a new Gold Coast Jersey with the #1 on the back, every young junior sports person on the coast will be practicing the ‘Hayne Plane’ in the school playground, in the backyard, in the lounge room, at training and on the sports field. Kids will choose to pick up a Steeden over a Sherrin. Jarryd Hayne signing with the Titans fires a shot across the bow to hometown rivals the AFL’s Gold Coast Suns, who’s prized signing Garry Ablett Jr. has not lived up to the hype or taken the Suns to any level of success since their inception. In a war of the codes to win the hearts and minds of the people of the Gold Coast, the Titans have struck back, in monumental fashion. The Titans are assembling a roster for not only now, but for the future. Hayne will undoubtedly prove to be a drawcard for off contract players and will also help Coach Neil Henry to retain emerging stars in the likes of young Half Ashley Taylor who is line to take out the Dally M Rookie of the Year Award. Taylor has the makings of being a certified superstar.

Titans fans
(Exciting times ahead for the long suffering Titans fans. Photo courtesy of http://www.couriermail.com.au)

One thing is for certain. Long suffering Gold Coast Rugby League fans finally have a team and a club they can be proud of. Mainly due to the efforts of Titans CEO Graham Annesley, Chair Rebecca Frizelle and the Titans Management team, coupled by the revamp of the football department by Neil Henry, an astute tactical coach with a reputation for turning around teams and taking sides to finals football during his tenures at the Raiders and in more recent times the Cowboys. Things are coming together for the Gold Coast franchise AND it’s about time. Strong governance, professionals in key positions, the Titans brand is no longer seen as an eyesore in a saturated sporting market, competing for the almighty dollar. Hayne’s acquisition may be the catalyst to ensuring their long-term future and existence in the National Rugby League, in the South-East corridor of Queensland. Rugby League on the Gold Coast is imperative and now, it is certainly here to stay.

Hayne’s return is also a positive for the NRL. Too often, the game has seen its stars flee the code for more lucrative opportunities namely in rival code Rugby Union. To have someone of the calibre of Jarryd Hayne who has succeeded in another sport, in another country that made headlines right around the world, is a major PR win for Rugby League. It proves the strength of the sport and the strength of the National Rugby League competition on the world stage. Love him or loathe him, he is an attraction. Whilst Titans fans will rejoice at his arrival, rival club fans will be wanting to see him play. Just as opposition fans love to watch the game’s elite. The Thurston’s, the Smith’s, the Inglis’. I for one welcome Hayne’s return. You can put the house on one thing, next season’s clash between the Titans and Eels will have extra significance.

And another thing……

The Rugby League International Federation (RLIF), ARL Commission and NRL dropped the ball with Semi Radradra back in May. Instead of making Radradra a Fijian NRL Ambassador, they allowed the Fijian born native to switch his allegiance to Australia which was fuelled by an additional cash grab which made the international product and eligibility a farce. With Hayne returning to the NRL after failing in his bid to play for Fiji in Rugby Sevens at the Rio Olympics, instead of rolling out the red carpet and giving him a walk up start in the Australian Kangaroos test team for the Four Nations and next year’s Rugby League World Cup (RLWC2017) why not make him the NRL ambassador for the Fijian Bati Rugby League Team.

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(Hayne represented Fiji at the 2008 Rugby League World Cup. Photo courtesy of http://www.abc.net.au)

Inspiring and encouraging young Fijian players playing in the NRL, U20’s and Second Tier competitions, to pledge their loyalty and international allegiance to the emerging nation of the South Pacific, not to mention, motivate Fijian athletes to pick up a Steeden instead of a Gilbert back in the Island Country. Hayne could be the face of Fijian Rugby League. Fiji were semi finalists in the 2013 World Cup, falling one game short of the Final, coincidently against Australia, a side Hayne was apart of that went on to defeat New Zealand and be crowned World Champions.

Hayne last pulled on the Fijian Bati jersey in the 2008 World Cup lighting up the field with his devastating athleticism. Making him a NRL Ambassador for Fiji, giving him the captaincy would be the perfect tonic for the international game and only strengthen the game globally, ensuring the best athletes are not being siphoned by the top three superpowers of international rugby league. A Fiji team led by Hayne, encompassing players like Kevin and Wes Naiqama, Kane Evans, the Sims brothers (Korbin, Tariq, Ashton) and emerging talent like Melbourne Storm flyer Suil Vunivalu the list goes on.

There’s no doubting the vast talent at Fiji’s disposal, although having a leader like Hayne leading their assault would be enriching for Fiji as a nation and Rugby League in the country. Current Fijian Bati Rugby League coach and Assistant Coach of the Newcastle Knights, Mick Potter is already keen to have Jarryd Hayne pulling on the Black and White of Fiji.”I’d be over the moon if he selected Fiji because that’s where his roots are based and he wants to contribute. That would be fantastic for Fijian rugby league, to have a man of his calibre available” Potter said back in May. I for one can only hope it comes to fruition. Let’s hope the ARL Commission and the Rugby League International Federation see the ‘bigger picture’.

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