Hayne is just one of the boys now. (Tony Feder/Getty Images)
Hayne is just one of the boys now. (Tony Feder/Getty Images)

The long journey of Eels and the Hayne Plane

CHRIS Sandow was the halfback.

He's now chip-and-chasing every Sunday in the mining town of Moranbah, two hours southwest of Mackay.

Ryan Morgan was in the centres. He's now at St Helens in the UK.

The winger, Ken Sio, he also went to England - returning last year to Newcastle to begin this season in reserve grade.

And tough little hooker, Isaac De Gois? He's since retired.

The Eels captain and fullback against the Canberra Raiders on Saturday night September 6, 2014, was Jarryd Hayne.

It would be the last time Eels fans would cheer 'The Plane' in a blue and gold jumper.

Until now.

After 1,263 days, the polarising prodigal son of Parra is back.

Hayne's homecoming will be complete when he runs out for a milestone 200th NRL appearance against Penrith at Panthers Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Hayne's journey back to the golden west of Sydney from San Francisco, to Suva to play rugby sevens and then finally Surfers Paradise with the Gold Coast Titans, has been well covered.

The Eels used to rely on Hayne’s star power. (Matt King/Getty Images)
The Eels used to rely on Hayne’s star power. (Matt King/Getty Images)

However, this afternoon, Hayne is only one part of the story.

As the Eels team list against the Raiders shows, Parramatta is a vastly different club to the one Hayne left behind to chase his NFL dream in October, 2014.

He left a club which imploded and somehow returns to a Taj Mahal of rich talent, burgeoning representative players and off-field prosperity.

While Hayne was in the US running routs, he managed to miss more chaos and back-stabbing evident in an episode of Married At First Sight.

Somehow the Eels are now one of the popular kids, fourth favourites to win the 2018 premiership.

From the US, Hayne missed the Anthony Watmough insurance claim saga and Kieran Foran's short-lived captaincy.

He also missed Danny Wicks' NRL comeback with the Eels and the arrival and departure of so many players including Reece Robinson, Nathan Peats, Semi Radradra and Michael Gordon.



And of course the 2014 Dally M winner missed the carnage of the club's darkest hour, the 2016 salary cap scandal which saw the loss of 12-competition points, a $1 million fine and a boardroom ban of disgraced directors.

The Eels are a stronger club than the one Hayne boldly left behind for a dream.

The question is, can Hayne, who turned 30 last month, prove in 2018, he has the same strength and fortitude to respond under pressure of which the walls of his own club, can now profess?

Best mate and Eels captain Tim Mannah explained why he's convinced Hayne can be.

"You look at that side (2014) and he was the big focal point for us. There was a lot of pressure on him,'' Mannah said.

"It was a case of if Jarryd is playing, we'll go well. If he wasn't playing, we'd be a big chance of losing.

"I think it's been refreshing for him to come to a team now where he knows he doesn't have to carry the whole team.

"We've come a long way since the day Haynsey left. This isn't a fluke.

Mannah gives Hayne some encouragement in his return to Eels training. (Mark Evans/Getty Images)
Mannah gives Hayne some encouragement in his return to Eels training. (Mark Evans/Getty Images)

"We didn't just wake up one day and have a team that you can rely on to perform well every week, it's been a number of years in the making.

"I remember there were years when attracting a player to our club was hard work. It wasn't easy.

"Now they're knocking on his (Arthur's) door. It's a special squad and a lot of that has to do with what Brad has done over the last few years.

"Jarryd included and why he's back here.

"It's almost easier for him than when he was last here. Because when I look at his best performances in the game, a lot of them have been in the Origin arena.

"You look at the quality in and around him there, which allows him to go to another level.

"The quality around him here, will help him go to another level as well.''

Having been stuck on 199 games since 2014, Hayne reaches the unique 200-game milestone this afternoon.

Mannah said the Eels playing group had already discussed internally what performing well for themselves, but also Hayne, meant against the Panthers.

"It's his 200th game this week and it's a really special milestone for anyone,'' Mannah said.

"But for someone like Jarryd, who has had the journey he's been on, it's really special.

"We treat our milestones with importance at Parra, so we'll be doing everything we can to get our season and Jarryd's first game back for the Eels, which is his 200th, off to a winning note.''