It was Parramatta Stadium, it was a Friday night and we were in a sombre Eels dressing room.
Parra had lost. Again.
The Eels coach at the time had dropped a significant amount of weight. Nothing tastes better than skinny: how did he do it?
Atkins? Paleo? The 5:2? Ibiza?
“You coach Jarryd Hayne and see how much weight you lose,” the coach said with a grin.
At the end of the season, the coach was sacked. He’d been Hayned.
On Saturday, after a Titans board meeting, Neil Henry joined the long and distinguished line of coaches to be Hayned.
Jarryd Hayne was once a superstar rugby league player. A Dally M winner. A Plane. A rugby league pioneer in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers.
Now he’s a verb.
Titans chief executive Graeme Annesley confirmed at a media conference on Monday afternoon that Henry had been sacked with one season remaining on his contract.
“This is not a Neil-versus-Jarryd issue solely,” Annesley insisted. “As I said to you, if it was player-driven we would not be standing here today having this discussion. We’d be having a different discussion. People will arrive at whatever conclusion they want from this. I know it’s a decision that hasn’t been arrived at through personalities and politics.”
Well, not entirely. It was arrived at mainly because of money.
The Titans are owned by the NRL and any decision about Henry or Hayne had to rubber-stamped by head office. Sacking Henry cost $400,000. Sacking Hayne – with almost no other club seemingly interested in him – would’ve cost $1.2 million.
Yet there were other factors.
There were certainly enough players who told Annesley and the board in the past week they had issues with the coach, as much as some of them have come out swinging for him with some declaring this was all a “beat-up”.
The fine art of coaching involves moulding and manipulating your players like they are plasticine to get what you all want: a premiership.
Some players need a cuddle, some need tough love, some need a hairspray, some need an arm thrown around them and a slow lap of the oval after everyone else has gone. Henry, for whatever reason, hasn’t been able to quite master it. As some have said in the past, he’s a great assistant coach.
Others say his decision this season to become more hands-on with contract negotiations has been fatal. Talking down the value and ability of players to their managers is a dangerous game to play, especially when it gets back to the player.
It’s gone very sour very quickly.
The Titans were horrifically treated by the referees in their loss to the Broncos in the first week of last year’s finals series and should’ve played deeper into September. This season, they’ve won just seven matches.
Henry was unable to unlock Hayne and on that score he’s not alone.
Parramatta coaches of the past are loath to talk about their frustrations at getting the most talented player in the side on the most amount of money to lead by example at training and on the field.
Privately, they sought advice from former legends of the coach’s box, seeking answers about what to do with Jarryd.
When Hayne signed on with the Titans last year, he was declared by the local press as the new “God of the Gold Coast”. Yet so many could forecast even then that the relationship between a socialist coach like Henry and a precious superstar like Hayne would end in tears and those tears were likely to belong to the coach.
Annesley and deputy chairman Darryl Kelly kept patting themselves on the back on Monday about how they’d handled this saga when in reality so many had seen it coming for months.
Would a club with a stronger chief executive and board have allowed this to play out so slowly and so publicly as it has in the last week or so?
Earlier this year, reports emerged that senior Titans players were angry with Hayne’s attitude in pre-season training. Hayne slammed them on social media, as did the coach and players.
This column spoke to Annesley at the time and he was comfortable that a few wins off the back of a soaring Hayne Plane would silence all the murmurs about the playing group and the coach being frustrated with their marquee player.
That run of Hayne Plane magic didn’t come. Save for a few signature flashes of brilliance, he is a shadow of the player he was before he left for the NFL.
He looks slow, out of nick, disinterested. He’s an easy punchline on social media but it’s sad to see his career falling off the cliff like this.
That run of form for the Eels in 2009; those matches for NSW in 2014; that brave transition to the NFL … “What I’ve done is not of this world,” he said in his own documentary and he was right.
But now he finds himself at a critical point of his career. He’s almost made himself unemployable with his form and actions this season and if he expects to command seven figures in the future he had better make it work in 2018 with the Titans.
At the very least, he owes it the people paying his wage, the players standing next to him and the fans turning up every week who don’t want him to nonchalantly ignore unmarked players outside him, kick the ball dead and then shrug his shoulders.
If Hayne’s not careful, he might get Hayned himself.