Hayne Looks To Reclaim The Pinnacle
The last time Blues centre Jarryd Hayne featured in a State of Origin series, he produced an individual performance for the ages as his state won for the first time in nine years.
Three years on he's hoping to lead New South Wales to glory again.
Since that series, Hayne spent the better part of two years out of the game, heading stateside to earn an unlikely NFL debut with the San Francisco 49ers before a stint trying to make it to the Olympics with the Fiji Rugby Sevens team.
Few, if any, rugby league players have commanded as many headlines without even playing the sport as Hayne did in 2015-16; his eventual return to the Titans was immediately followed by a write-your-own-script match-winning field goal against Wests Tigers at his old stomping ground in Campbelltown.
Some up-and-down form either side of a five-week ankle injury at first fullback and now centre haven't exactly provided a compelling Origin audition given the Blues' depth at centre, but it is Hayne's sublime ability to turn a game at the highest level – demonstrated in almost every one of his 20 Origins and 11 Tests for Australia – that swayed coach Laurie Daley as much as anything.
Hayne said while Origin hadn't been on his radar when he returned ("I've never really worried about Origin, you worry about playing good footy and the rest looks after itself," was his typically laid-back view) he had no hesitation in agreeing the big stage seemed to bring the best out of him.
"Ever since I was a kid I've pictured myself playing in front of thousands of people. You really embrace it and enjoy it," he said.
"It's so much fun, getting that enjoyment out and playing with the guys as well, those experiences – you can't put a limit on it because it's such a surreal feeling."
Looking back at 2014 he had no doubt it was the pinnacle of his league career.
"Even looking back at it gives me goosebumps, just realising what we went through to get there," he said.
"We went to hell and back in that Game One. Game Two was just as tough. All the heartache we had previous years. There were two series there that were neck and neck and they got over us in the final minutes so to finally get that win was unbelievable."
Hayne said he couldn't recall a game before or since where he was so spent he couldn't even stand up at times.
"I remember just wanting to lie down on the ground, my body was gone," he said. "I'll never forget [Blues trainer] Ronnie Palmer picking me up [saying] keep moving your legs, keep moving your legs.
"That whole set I just sat at the back because I was just gone. We all were. After that Beau Scott had to go to hospital because he was physically ill. That's what we had to put our bodies through just to get that win and we'll have to do that again [next Wednesday] night."
The famous image of Hayne running the ball into the crowd on the full-time siren and embracing a hoard of Blatchys Blues is one of the most memorable images from that series.
"It was a surreal moment and the Blatchy's Blues, they're amazing the way they support us, they've been through the heartache with us," Hayne said.
"The fans that ride every emotion with you. Jumping in the crowd was special and I'll remember that forever."
That drought-breaking 2014 series saw the Blues take the first game up at Suncorp before sealing the deal in Game Two in Sydney. The plan is to repeat that feat in 2017, according to Hayne.
"It's about winning the first two games more than anything. Get them up there in Brissy then bring it home down here like we did in '14," he said.
This article first appeared on NRL.com