1000 days of reality for returning Titan
It's been exactly 1000 days since Jamal Fogarty last played in the NRL.
Time enough for the Titans late-bloomer to reflect on the person he has become - and the social hardships that have shaped his perspective on life and rugby league.
If Fogarty isn't the most inspirational player in the NRL, he is in the grand final.
In an age where NRL stars are perceived as pampered, overpaid prima-donnas, Fogarty goes against the grain.
As he desperately chased his NRL dream, the 26-year-old father of two has juggled rugby league commitments with a job as a youth worker.
What Fogarty sees at the societal frontline every day is a fusion of joy and heartbreak.
The Gold Coast halfback has seen young children kicked out of home. Homeless teenagers sleeping in bushes. Drug-addled adolescents crying out for love, a hot shower and something to eat.
But then there are the moments that make youth work rewarding, like Fogarty talking a teen out of dark thoughts, or seeing someone emerge from custody to hold down a job and forge independence in life.
It is this backdrop that explains why Fogarty is grateful to be back in the big league, clinching the Titans No.7 jumper against the Cowboys in his first game for the Gold Coast since 2017.
"My journey has given me great life experience ... it's been a long time between games," says Fogarty, who works with the Gold Coast Youth Justice Service.
"As footballers we beat ourselves up if we lose a game, but the kids I've worked with have issues that are way bigger. Some have no home to go to. They don't have any food or can't shower.
"The toughest thing in the job is seeing the youth be homeless, especially during the winter time when it's freezing cold and they are sleeping on the streets.
"The best thing is seeing youth who struggle to engage with you at first, then they go and make a change for themselves to finish a program which might run anywhere from six to 12 weeks and get a job.
"I have taken 12 months leave without pay to fully commit to the Titans, but it's an awesome job. I love the feeling when young kids you work with make good changes to be better.
"It's unreal. I love it."
Buoyed by his social work, Fogarty, who plays his third NRL game in Townsville, has undergone his own growth as a footballer.
The classy No.7 played two matches for the Titans three years ago, but after a move to Sydney with Parramatta, Fogarty has a better grasp of his game and the sacrifices required to succeed in the NRL.
There is a view that aspiring NRL players are washed-up by their mid-20s, but Fogarty is motivated by the brilliant revival of former Titan Cody Walker, who made his top-grade debut at 26.
"Cody has done an amazing job - seeing his form has lit the fire in the belly for me to think I'm not too old to make it," he said.
"If you still believe in yourself, you aren't too far gone.
"I did think my time had passed me by for a while, but I never thought about quitting. For me football is fun and I've never thought if I don't make the NRL, I've failed. I love the game and I would have played it at any level really.
"I am now more comfortable in my skin as a player. I'm excited to be selected and hopefully I can build a combination with Ash Taylor and be the halfback the Titans are looking for."
Fogarty was outstanding for feeder-club Burleigh in a pre-season trial defeat of the Titans. That convinced Titans coach Justin Holbrook to hand him a two-year deal.
"Jamal is exactly what we need," Holbrook said.
"We're lacking that real general as a natural halfback and that's why we've brought him in.
"He's one of those guys that works really hard on his game. He had a bit of a chance in the NRL then went back to (the Intrust Super Cup) and now he's got another chance.
"As a coach, they're rewarding stories.
"As a character and from the short dealings I've had with him you won't find a better guy. He's an honest, hard-working fella.
"He's a natural halfback ... he will slot in well."
Originally published as 1000 days of reality for returning Titan