On May 16, Dane Gagai just couldn't stop crying. On June 22, after State of Origin II at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane -- which the Maroons won 24-16 -- he looked like just about the happiest man on the field.
Gagai's tears came after his NRL club side, the Newcastle Knights, were thumped 62-0 by the Sharks. But it was more than the loss. It emerged that his grandmother had died just hours before the game.
There were also claims that Gagai -- who is of Torres Strait Islander and Maori descent -- had been been racially slurred during that game.
Come Wednesday night, Gagai was far from the first player New South Wales would have been worried about as they ran the ruler across the star-studded Queensland team. But how often in State of Origin has the no-name Queenslander been the hero?
After the game started out as a penalty shootout, it was 4-4 just before halftime. Gagai pounced on a loose New South Wales pass on the last tackle and sprinted down the right touchline. It was touch and go in every sense of the word. But he made it. First try of the game to Queensland. The first of three for Gagai, who became just the fourth Maroons player to score an Origin hat trick.
"I don't think I've even scored a hat trick in club footy," he said afterwards.
Gagai, 25, is one seriously modest bloke.
"I never take any credit for my tries," he said, before thanking teammates like Johnathan Thurston and Darius Boyd for providing him the right sort of "service". As though all he does is catch the ball and flop over the line.
Nuh-uh. Dane Gagai's tries are engineered to a large degree by Dane Gagai.
Gagai has just become a dad. "I'll go celebrate with my little boy and my missus," was his synopsis of his immediate post-match plans.
Underlying the Dane Gagai story is a landscape of unimaginable darkness. A spate of suicides in his home town of Mackay has claimed as many as seven young rugby league players in the past couple of years. Many of these young men played in his younger brother's team.
Gagai is now a mental health ambassador for the NRL. He also happens to be great mates with Alex McKinnon, the Knights player who was left a quadriplegic after a tackle that went wrong in 2014.
He's come a long way on and off the field. Wednesday night was his finest hour.Suggest a correction