Jarryd Hayne went to the last World Cup thinking he would do Fiji a favour by playing for them. Five years on, the now Kangaroo credits that time in his life for making him the man he is today.
The Parramatta superstar says it will be one of the most emotional challenges of his career when he runs out for Australia next Saturday in his first appearance at this World Cup against Fiji. Prior to the 2008 tournament, Hayne was one of the most talented young stars in the NRL but issues off the field threatened to derail his career. However, by the time the tournament was over he was on his way to superstardom — and, more importantly, his life finally found meaning.
"Fiji changed my life," Hayne said. "This is something that I have been thinking about for a long time. It will be one of the toughest games I will ever play from an emotional point of view, knowing how much an experience it was last time.
"With God and church, for me, that is how it all started. It was an amazing tour for me. I went away thinking I was going to help them, but the team impacted me and gave me something I will remember forever."
Hayne's spectacular performances for Fiji made him just about the story of the last World Cup as the Fijians shocked the rugby league world on their way to a semi-final showdown against Australia.
They lost that game but the following year Hayne produced arguably the greatest individual season ever played as he carried Parramatta to the grand final and collected the Dally M Medal along the way.
He was preparing to play for Fiji again this year before he received a surprise call-up from the Kangaroos after a season marred by injury. Hayne put in a phenomenal performance for NSW this year in the State of Origin opener but days later suffered a hamstring injury against the Roosters and never recovered, playing just three games for the rest of the season.
He said he hardly gave himself a hope of being picked to play for Australia — but now that he's here his mission is to fight his way into the Kangaroos' top team.