Off the Wall

The revelation in today's Sydney Morning Herald that a key factor in Jarryd Hayne turning his life, and football career, around has been his newfound involvement with the Hillsong Christian Church adds another fascinating dimension to the great rugby league success story of the year.

Rugby league, down through the years, has had a close "connection" with the church - but until recently it was the Catholic Church. Any number of senior administrators - the Bill Buckley's, Tom Bellew's and Ron McAuliffe's among them - and a significant number of the games finest players were Catholics. The presence of Cardinals, Archbishops, and other clergy was almost mandatory at the big games and big events in the rugby league year.

Certainly in Queensland, just about every major centre had a "Brothers" Football Club. In Toowoomba, where I was born, it was named All Whites. The Patron was the Bishop of Toowoomba. In Brisbane, the Brothers Club was a powerful force in the Brisbane Rugby League premiership for years, and produced any number of state and test players. It was also closely affiliated with Catholic schools in and around Brisbane.

But there was always a "separation" between church and sport. I can hardly recall any player from a Brothers Club ever professing publicly the influence of their faith in their life, let alone their football career.

All that has changed dramatically in recent years. Many NRL clubs now have a large group of players who are committed Christians and don't hesitate parading their faith not only in the media but in their off field work. But the game is no longer the preserve of the Catholic Church - far from it.

This has largely come about as a result of the growing influence in our game of players from Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, as well as New Zealand Maori players. These players come from countries, and communities, where Christianity is a powerful force.

In today's article, Jarryd Hayne reveals that his newfound commitment to Christianity came during his involvement in the Fiji World Cup team last year.

He reveals that he now regularly attends Hillsong Church in Western Sydney and attends youth group meetings, though he emphasises that he is not a "full Christian -yet". But the new influence in his life is beyond dispute.

Jarryd Hayne is potentially not only a powerful force for Christianity, but for rugby league.

He is the without much doubt the best player in the game today. He has the potential to be one of the greats of all time - but that is only going to be measured and determined over time itself.

Comments earlier this week that he is rivalling Johns and Lockyer really are a bit premature...but his faultless form this year has done the Eels, and the game, enormous good.

As I have observed before, his rising influence in the game needs to be managed with care by those around him. Perhaps it is timely that another prominent Christian, Paul Osborne, is now the CEO of the Eels!

But what also needs to be managed, and managed for their good and the good of the game, is the growing influence of Pacific Island players in the NRL...and it is an influence that is almost a dominant one in some clubs.

I believe that our game is the better for that influence - but it is not without its challenges. I am not sure the game's administrators - at all levels - appreciate just how important those challenges are, let alone have the capacity to meet them.

But back to Jarryd Hayne. Don't believe for one minute that his influence is confined to Sydney, or even to Eels fans. I have friends who are most definitely not Eels supporters who now won't miss watching an Eels match on television.

He is a positive influence at a time when we need one. The new influence in his own life adds another dimension to his fascinating story.

The expectations on him are great - perhaps too great.

Paul Osborne and Daniel Anderson need to ensure those expectations are managed with great care and sensitivity, for his good, and the good of the game.

Rugby league needs the Jarryd Hayne success story to continue - on and off the field.

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