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‘It was an emotional moment for me when Kevie called me’

Dear Queenslanders,

Growing up, my dad played footy – not professionally or anything, but he was a big fan of the game, and so was my mum, and I played my first game when I was four years old, so I have been playing it for a long time.

I fell in love with the game.  Especially ‘cause growing up and playing down at Burleigh from under 7 to under 17, everyone loves talking about Queensland and Origin.

You go to school and you are always talking about the Origin game the night after the game.

Especially in Queensland it means so much to the community, it means so much to the people – to you!

I know there were teachers who would wear their Queensland jerseys into school and always brag to New South Wales fans.

This was during the period of time when Queensland were so dominant and dominated Origin, which was great to see and hopefully we can continue to do that, hopefully make our own dynasty.

As a rugby league player, obviously, you have those little memories and a big one for me would probably be when I first ran out as a little kid, a little junior, I had the bowl cut back then, and I was a young little kid who idolised rugby league players. 

I am very grateful that I can try and be the best role model I can possibly be to young kids who are hopefully looking up to me.

In 2018. Photo: NRL Images
In 2018. Photo: NRL Images

I was 15 when I probably realised playing rugby league as a job could be a reality for me. I signed my first little contract with the Broncos and I was in their development system.

That was when I really wanted to make it a dream and hopefully it become a reality.

And I did take it pretty seriously in high school and started to go to the gym when I was 16-17 and that’s when it all started to get pretty serious.

I moved up to Brisbane a week after I finished high school in 2012, so I was 17 at the time when I moved away from home and moved into a house with three other boys. And then I went through the 20s system there.

In 2014, that was when I signed my first full-time contract and I think it was during the time I was at the 20s when it was a ‘no work, no play’ system, so I did a plumbing apprenticeship.

That was a big eye opener for me. I knew that I didn’t want to do plumbing and I know I wanted to play footy.

Since then, it’s sort of all fallen into my lap. 

Obviously as a kid growing up, I always wanted to be a football player, to be an NRL player, but it hit me when I was digging holes day-in, day-out, Monday to Friday and then going to training and I thought ‘this is not for me’ and I decided I was going to work my butt off.

And no matter what I did, I tried to be the best person that I could be and work hard off the field and train as hard as I could to make sure I put myself in a position to make my dream become a reality.

I have always been the type of guy to always try my hardest whatever it is, and if it doesn’t work out, then at least I know I have given myself the best opportunity and given 100 per cent.

I have always had the love for the game.

Jai Arrow FOG #196

I don’t really consider me going to training every day my job, I consider it fun. I get to go to training every day, I get to keep fit, keep healthy, I get to travel as well, stay in hotels and that’s pretty cool as well, not many people get to do that.

I know it’s not a thing that will last forever, so I am definitely making the most of it and enjoying myself.

I have always loved the game and I have always told myself that I want to play the game because I love it, not because I have to and that’s what I have always done. 

I’m a pretty passionate sort of guy when it comes to rugby league and I am very passionate about the game and love to put on a jersey week-in, week-out and get to go out and do something I love in front of my friends and family each week.

So, the Origin realisation probably didn’t come until I went down to the Titans, but I sort of set myself little goals at the start.

Firstly, I made my debut with the Broncos, then I set myself a goal to be in the team week-in, week-out and I sort of did that in 2016.

And then in 2017, I had an injury and then I was in and out of the team, and then I got the opportunity to go to the Gold Coast to make it my own and make a position for myself, so I set myself that goal of playing in the team week-in, week-out and starting.

I got the opportunity to do that at the Gold Coast and obviously there was media talking about me being a chance for Origin and I think that’s when it really hit me it could possibly happen.

So again, I wanted to make sure I was putting myself in the best place physically and mentally to play my best footy.

And then I got the pretty emotional phone call, it was an emotional moment for me when Kevie called me to tell me I would be making my debut at the MCG and playing for my state.

That was probably one of the best moments of my life, getting that phone call.

As soon as I hung up, I broke down and called my dad and on the phone, I literally broke down and had to hang up and broke down again and I was on all fours on the ground, crying on the ground and couldn’t really believe that another dream was going to become a reality in a fortnight’s time.

I eventually told my mum and dad and my family, they were the first people I called, and they were pretty damn happy for me.

My mum actually didn’t believe me at first. She said, ‘nah, you are geeing up!’ and ‘you’re kidding aren’t ya?’.  She’s like ‘you are joking’ and I said ‘nah, it’s actually going to happen’ and she was absolutely stoked for me.

And my dad’s not one to really show emotion toward anything, but I could tell he was pretty happy for me and pretty happy as well.

I am a pretty easy-going sort of guy, but when I walked into Origin camp and I saw Billy slater and Greg Inglis, I literally thought to myself ‘what am I doing here?’

That was the first thought that I had ‘what am I doing here?’ ‘cause I saw the calibre of players in those two and then you look at the other players that walked in and I am just going ‘this is ...’, it was a very surreal feeling. 

I guess still I was a young kid, I would have been about 22 years old, just turned 23 years and old, so still only a young man walking into a man’s game.

It’s a tough game, Origin. I think it’s the pinnacle of rugby league, it’s such a tough, fast and physical game and that’s why fans, why you, love it and it’s definitely the next level up.

In 2018. Photo: NRL Images
In 2018. Photo: NRL Images

It’s intense and the crowds too, the crowds are unbelievable.

I think in my debut game there were 80-90,000 people there sitting down watching and I was just ... speechless.

When I usually run out, I am pretty calm and don’t want to scream or anything, but I ran out and I did a whole 360 and literally screamed at the top of my lungs ‘cause I couldn’t believe that this was happening.

Another special part too is when the national anthem comes on and you are there shoulder-to-shoulder with your team mates and looking the other team in eye and singing that national anthem and it’s pretty much go to war from them.

I think on one side it was J Wal and he’s obviously a pretty close mate of mine and I was pretty lucky in my first one to have him play with me and Coen Hess or Josh McGuire was next to me, so I had some pretty big lads next to me.

I have been lucky enough to play four now and I will definitely be doing all I can to pull on the jersey again ‘cause I feel like when you put it on, you have super powers – especially at Suncorp as well, that’s probably an even better experience.

In my debut camp, I was pretty quiet to be honest, ‘cause I didn’t want to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing so the other players weren’t just off me or something like that, so I kept quiet.

But obviously I had conversations and said ‘hello’ and introduced myself and stuff like that, but I tried to keep quiet and focus.

Origin is built on a lot of emotion, you play it with a lot of emotion, so obviously the emotions where high when I first walked into camp, seeing those sorts of guys, but you come to terms with it pretty quickly.

It was obviously a long week, it’s only a 10-day camp, but it felt like a long week ‘cause all you wanted to do was just get out there and get to game day and then, the day of the game drags on forever ‘cause it’s such a late game.

But once you get out there ... wow.

The first training session – I was literally ‘I am nervous!’ I was absolutely crapping myself, I was very nervous.

I started panicking – ‘cause all I was thinking was ‘don’t drop the ball, don’t drop the ball, don’t do anything wrong, just stay calm’, so I think I was too nervous, and the next day when we trained again, I was thinking to myself – ‘you know what? I’m here, I’ve been picked for a reason, I am just gonna do what I do every week and I am going to do the things that have got me here in the first place’.

I took that on board and it made it a lot easier and better and made me a lot more comfortable as well and it obviously made it a lot better for the game as well.

Once you run out on that field, you think you are fine, but once you are actually out there playing, and it’s all hell breaks loose ... the adrenaline is pumping and your emotions are going and it’s a game that’s played on a lot of emotion.

I remember my first touch pretty vividly, I took a carry, I took a standard hit up and I got whacked a fair bit.

And I was, ‘wow – if this is in the second half and if they are still hitting like this, obviously it must be a tough game’ and I remember after two minutes – I was gone.

My lungs were hanging out and I was trying to find my breath pretty quick and there’s not many times when you can catch your breath in an Origin game.

I think absolutely, my first Origin was probably the highlight – apart from making my NRL debut and my club debut for my home town – that was probably up there as one of the best moments of my footy career.

The game is so fast now and physical now, you can literally hear the hits from the stands and obviously it’s a brutal game, but when I put on that Maroons jersey ... it’s go time.

From the first time I put it on I said, no matter how many games I play, I am obviously grateful for the one I have played now and I would love to play more, but I, no matter when I put on that jersey, I put my body on the line and make sure my team mates are proud of me and that I am a player they want to play with and that they basically want to go war with, because Origin is such a brutal game.

In 2019. Photo: NRL Images
In 2019. Photo: NRL Images

I think everyone has said it, but people who don’t follow rugby league will still watch Origin because of that.

It’s an absolute blood fest, it’s a contest, it’s got a little bit of everything in it.

I wish everyone who follows rugby league, loves rugby league, could experience the feeling of running out and the playing side of it – because – I suppose it’s a cliché, but it’s something that’s very hard to describe, it’s an in-the-moment thing.

Running out to the crowd in my debut, I loved it, I loved – obviously Melbourne was a bit different ‘cause it was all AFL fans interested in the sporting contest.

Running out at ANZ – that was unbelievable. The boos! You could literally feel the ground shaking and they were booing the absolute crap out of ya and I loved it ay. I thought it was unbelievable – I was saying ‘how good is this’.

So, in my first year, I went and played in Melbourne and then Sydney and then at Suncorp and I said ‘wow, this is unbelievable’ and there was 80,0000 there, and I went ‘how good is this, this is unbelievable’.

It’s so loud out there when you are playing, you are literally screaming trying to talk to someone, ‘cause it’s so loud the whole time when the place erupts and I was thinking surely it couldn’t be louder at Suncorp, there’s not as many people ... and hoooollly crap.

Ran out at Suncorp and that whole place ... you look around and it’s all maroon and it just erupts.

You can literally feel the love ... goose bumps ... over my whole body, I had goose bumps and I am going, ‘holy crap, how good is this’.

I didn’t think it was able to get any better and they absolutely, at Suncorp, blew both of the other two run outs out of the water, I couldn’t actually believe it.  

And then I looked around – ‘cause every time I have run out I have looked around the whole stadium so I can soak it all it and I try to look over and find my family and my partner just so I can see them.

And actually the first time I ran out in Suncorp, I literally teared up ‘cause it was that amazing, the feeling and love that you feel from the fans and the crowd – from you all - is unbelievable and standing next to your team mates, holding each other and singing that national anthem just makes it so special, especially in Queensland, ‘cause it means so much to the community and so much to the state.

As a young kid growing up, I wasn’t really a yeller or a screamer or anything, but every time an Origin came on, you’d be yelling and screaming at the TV.

We had a 16s, 18s and 20s – mini Origin sort of things – and I played in all three of those and thought they were unbelievable, but then I got a taste of the actual real thing and I don’t think anything would ever compare to running out in a Queensland Origin jersey.

I am massively grateful to you the fans. I never, ever in a million years expected anyone to come out and watch me play or ask me to sign a jersey or ask me to sign whatever it may be. It’s kind of weird, it’s kind of a spin out.

But I try to keep myself level-headed and I try to be the best person I can possibly be and make sure that I am always giving time and giving back to the community.

You all make it so much better as well – obviously it’s good to play a game with a little bit of a crowd, but when you have 52,000 screaming Queenslanders – lunatics – then it makes it a lot more special and makes you want to do it for them as well.

Thank you,

Jai Arrow

FOG #196