Jarrod Hayne at Eels training. Pic Nick Moir 3 jan 2018’If you don’t start asking football questions,” uttered Brad Arthur from the back of the rather large media scrum, “I am going to pull him.”
The thing is, though, only a handful of reporters at Jarryd Hayne’s first media conference on the first day of his second coming at his old club had any rugby league questions for him.
Most wanted to talk about the rape allegation that has been levelled against him in a civil lawsuit from a 25-year-old woman known only as Ms V.
It’s an all-too-common occurrence in footy these days: general news reporters asking about an off-field issue, rubbing shoulders with sports reporters, who need to cover off on both.
“If you want to talk about football, I am more than happy,” Hayne said after he was bombarded with questions that weren’t about football. “I can’t talk about it. You can ask whatever you wanna ask, but I’ll avoid it and deflect it and talk about my lawyers. If you want to talk about football, I love being back at my childhood club, seeing the guys I’ve played footy with since I was a kid ???”
A footballer who is usually swimming in self-confidence, Hayne appeared nervous as he tried to “avoid and deflect” to his lawyers.
It was a curious scene.
Standing just over his right shoulder throughout the 10-minute grilling stood a snappily dressed young man – dark suit, tie, even a silver tie pin – who had earlier emerged from a shiny black BMW before walking through a hole in the wire fence at the Eels’ nondescript training ground in North Parramatta.
He was later revealed to be an associate of Hayne’s lawyer, Ramy Qutami, and when Hayne finished avoiding and deflecting, the bloke with the tie-pin handed out media statements to reporters.
Along with another “unequivocal and vehement” denial of the allegations, the statement revealed that Hayne’s attorney in the US will be Mark Baute.
The name should ring a bell for followers of US sport and the NBA. Baute successfully defended New York Knicks point-guard Derrick Rose and two of his friends against rape allegations in an enormously publicised trial in 2016.
Baute reduced the woman to tears in the witness box and later wore accusations from many quarters of “slut shaming” her. “Crocodile tears,” he said in an interview with The Guardian. “Pretty easy to fake if you’re looking for 20 million bucks.”
Wednesday afternoon’s media opp was a perfect opportunity for Hayne to elaborate on the accusations being levelled at him from Ms V. He looked like he wanted to but wasn’t budging from the instructions of his legal team. Fair enough: that’s what they are being paid for. Still, he’s more than aware of the distraction this whole episode has been causing his old/new club since the story broke just before Christmas.
Arthur later told Fairfax Media it was Hayne’s idea to address the media on his first day back at the club he left in 2014 to pursue an NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers, the team he was playing for when the rape allegedly occurred.
“It was his idea to do it because it was best for the club and the team and not himself,” Arthur said. “He phoned me [before Christmas] and said, ‘I don’t want to put you through this so let’s deal with it’. He was keen to deal with it before New Year’s but I said let’s wait until you start on January 3.”It’s optimistic to believe that one short media conference will bury the interest in the story or even Hayne, although it will stop – for now – non-rugby league news crews doing live crosses during Eels training sessions.
“It’s just one of those things you gotta go through,” Hayne said. “It’s a bit of adversity. As players we go through all sorts of things. This is the situation I’m in and we’ll go through it.”
Players do face all sorts of adversity ??? Hayne’s endured plenty, some of it of his own doing ??? but a high-profile civil lawsuit that could see him return to the US should it go to trial is something different altogether.
Will the allegation be a distraction for him?
“Being in this environment around us and his teammates, and he’s busy, that will be the key,” Arthur said. “There will be times when he’s on his own and he might struggle with it. But our players have become quite tight away from our training base now. He’s got a lot of friends here like Tim Mannah, Michael Jennings … that he cares about and they care about him.”
Another question about the case prompted Hayne to chuckle. “Football!” he pleaded. A football question was forthcoming and suddenly the media scrum halved, most of them no longer interested.
When Hayne trained before the cameras earlier in the morning, he struggled in running drills, plodding away at the back of the pack. That’s the Hayne Plane we all know and love: it was no different when he was here as their bona fide superstar. Their only superstar.
What the cameras didn’t capture was that it was one of four sessions for the day, including extras on a bike before he fronted the press.
“The lungs were alright but it was more the legs,” Hayne said. “I’ve got a big 11 weeks before the season starts.”
Said Arthur: “I know it sounds corny but it was good to have him back … I spoke to him yesterday and he rang me again late last night. He’d never say it but he was nervous about today and what was in front of him. [But] it’s a bit like he’d never left. He blended straight in.”
Arthur and the Eels are expecting something different from Hayne this time around. The last time he was here, he was the big dog who barked when he wanted to. Because the Eels were so reliant on him, their season swung on which side of the bed he got out of. Parramatta are no longer that kind of club.
“What we don’t expect from him is to win games of footy for us,” Arthur said. “What we expect is that he brings his best version of himself every week, plays consistent … When we need someone to break the game open, we want him to do that. But he’s not relied upon to do that all the time.”
It was probably the best thing Hayne could’ve heard.
“That’s going to be great,” he said. “Just coming in today, you’ve got Normie [Corey Norman], Mose [Mitchell Moses], Timmy [Mannah], Bev [Bevan French] ??? It wasn’t just one or two guys pulling the strings, but everyone working as a unit. Me coming in, I won’t have to be that presence again.”
Then this: “And I won’t have to do as many media interviews too.”
Yeah … don’t bet.