The inspiring story behind the NRL’s surprise skipper
Jamal Fogarty hopes his rise to the captaincy of the Gold Coast Titans can inspire others facing the rugby league scrap heap.
Fogarty is proof that a second, or even third, chance could not be far away for those determined enough to chase it.
With only 17 first-grade appearances next to his name, Fogarty is the least experienced captain in the NRL era after being chosen to replace the suspended Kevin Proctor.
Kayo is your ticket to the 2020 NRL Telstra Premiership. Every game of every round Live & On-Demand with no-ad breaks during play. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
But what he lacks in on-field experience at the highest level, Fogarty makes up for in immeasurable qualities.
At 26, and with two young daughters, Fogarty admits he thought his NRL dream had passed him after two games for the Titans in 2017, his second stint at the Gold Coast club after coming through the grades in 2012-15.
Fogarty was crowned the Intrust Super Cup's player of the year in 2019 and captained the Burleigh Bears to a premiership win.
"To be honest, I kind of did (give up)," Fogarty said.
"After the season I had last year, I thought I went pretty well and if there was going to be any opportunity for me to get back in the NRL it would have been off the back of that season.
"But nothing really came about. I enjoy my job and love playing at Burleigh so I got on with it and didn't dwell on it."
After already having two cracks at the Titans, Fogarty was at peace playing for the tight-knit Bears and working full-time as a youth worker on the Gold Coast.
But his life would change on the night of February 21 at Pizzey Park, Burleigh's home ground.
Fogarty played a starring role in the Bears' trial game win against the Titans and caught the eye of new Gold Coast coach Justin Holbrook.
"After the trial game, my manager Tas Bartlett told me the Titans' recruitment officer Ezra (Howe) wanted to have a coffee and get to know me," Fogarty said.
"I had a coffee with Ezra and we spoke about what I do for work and if coming to the Titans on a development contract would work for me and my family.
"They were really good with the process. They understood my situation with work and family.
"They were very genuine and honest about it and how they could help me. That sealed the deal for me.
"I signed a development contract and wasn't allowed to play NRL until after June 30."
Fogarty expected to spend most of the season with the Bears and hoped he could play a handful of games in the back end of the NRL season.
But another twist of fate played in his favour.
The global health pandemic COVID-19 shutdown the NRL season after two rounds and forced the competition into a dramatic restructure.
Fogarty was promoted to the Titans' top 30 "bubble", allowing him to play NRL immediately, and the patchy form of halves Ash Taylor and Tyrone Roberts in the opening two rounds gave Holbrook plenty to think about during the two-month break.
When the Titans returned to training, Holbrook made the decision to move Taylor to five-eighth and give Fogarty a crack at the No. 7 jersey.
Fogarty hasn't looked back since.
He made his first NRL appearance in 1000 days when the season rebooted and has played all 15 games since, gradually improving as his confidence grows.
"It's been a weird and crazy year," Fogarty said.
"Six months ago I was working at Youth Justice on the Gold Coast and training two nights a week at Burleigh. Now I'm back at the Titans for my third stint and playing first grade.
"I'm really enjoying it. The coaching staff are awesome and doing a great job for each player and the whole club in general.
"My football is slowly getting better each week as I'm getting more confident and that comes back to the coaches, what they've put in place and the confidence they've given me as well as my teammates.
"It's been a great few months so far."
Fogarty realises every day he arrives at the Gold Coast's Parkwood headquarters for training is a blessing and something he isn't taking for granted.
Which is why he has so warmly embraced being chosen to captain the Titans.
When Proctor was suspended for biting Cronulla's Shaun Johnson three weeks ago, Holbrook had numerous options for the captaincy.
Given his lack of NRL experience, it was a somewhat surprising decision to go with Fogarty but the leadership qualities in the local product are obvious to see and he would love to take on the duties full-time in 2021.
"I didn't know what to say when Justin asked me - I thought he was taking the piss," Fogarty said.
"I was washing up my lunch dishes in the kitchen and having a casual chat with him when he asked me.
"When he said he was serious I said 'bloody oath, mate. I'd love to'. Later on it sunk in. Being a local junior, it's massive for me.
"If that's the direction they want to go in next year then I will take it with both hands and do the club proud. If they don't, I'm just happy to be in the first grade team."
Fogarty's captaincy stint could end on Saturday when the Titans host the Broncos at Cbus Super Stadium in the final match of Proctor's suspension.
The Titans will not play finals football in 2020 but the season has been a success for Fogarty and the former Australian Schoolboys representative hopes his determination can inspire someone else in a similar situation.
"I'd like to think it's a good story," Fogarty said.
"I always followed (South Sydney five-eighth) Cody Walker's story. He plied his trade in the Queensland Cup for such a long period and dominated at that level.
"He was 26 when he got his gig at Souths and now he's a leader among the indigenous players in the NRL.
"I've always held on to his story - if he could do it, I could do it.
"A lot of young kids come out of high school making all the rep teams then don't get an NRL gig straight away.
"They shouldn't think the Intrust Super Cup is a negative. It's a great platform for guys to upskill themselves and work hard each week against guys in NRL systems.
"If you can compete against those guys then an NRL club will snap you up at some stage."
Originally published as The inspiring story behind the NRL's surprise skipper