Dane Gagai reveals the dark times that defined his rise
FROM sleeping in a car because he had nowhere else to go, to winning one of rugby league's highest honours, Dane Gagai's NRL career has been one hell of a rollercoaster.
This year, the 26-year-old Newcastle speedster became the first winger to be awarded with the Wally Lewis Medal for the player of the State of Origin series.
But five years ago, he could have easily given up on his footy dream.
Gagai was sacked from Brisbane in 2012 just six weeks after he'd signed a new two-year deal with the club.
The then 22-year-old from Mackay was cut loose by Broncos coach Anthony Griffin due to a series of minor disciplinary breaches like missing training and failing to reach weight targets.
"It wasn't because I was too heavy, it was because I was too light. I was a Murri kid coming from North Queensland and if you look at my legs now they're still pretty bony," Gagai said.
"I really struggled putting on weight. They wanted big outside backs so I'd stay up late trying to eat, I'd get up in the early hours of the morning to eat. Then that just got a bit tough and I was late to a few sessions.
"I think the thing that helped me was the people I had around me. As much crap as Hodgo (Justin Hodges) gave me there, he was by my side when I started going through that tough time.
"I'd moved in with one of the staff members and then once they let me go I move out of there and I was just staying with a couple of boys, and Jordan Kahu was a massive part of that. He let me crash at his place and I was just kind of house-hopping."
But it wasn't until his ex-teammates needed to travel for an away game when Gagai felt most alone.
"There was a point when all the boys were away and I had to spend the night in the car because I had nowhere to go," he said.
"My cousin Josh (Hoffman) was staying with his fiance and her family and I didn't want to bother him.
"There's a lot of stories about players in the NRL that go through tough times and I think the thing that helped me get through it was the boys around me.
"Jharal Yow Yeh caught up with me for a feed, this was just before I left for Newcastle, and I'll never forget what he said, he goes 'This could be a blessing in disguise'. That's what it has been."
As history shows, Gagai continued to develop his game at the Knights under Wayne Bennett and earned his first senior Queensland jersey in 2015.
He's gone on to score seven tries for the Maroons and is well in the running to bag himself a Kangaroos jersey for the World Cup at the end of the season before he joins South Sydney on a lucrative deal from 2018.
"To represent Queensland was the highlight of my career and the same goes for that green and gold jersey," Gagai said.