INTRUST SUPER CUP
Gagai grandad bursts with pride
It was standing room only on Gordon St in Mackay's city centre as the Queensland Maroons arrived for their annual fan day.
Thousands lined street to welcome a new-look Maroons side and their presence was immediately felt, with smiles and cheering stretching as far as the eye could see.
Like Rockhampton, Proserpine and Longreach before it, the spirit of Mackay needed lifting after a tough period that brought life for many to a screeching halt.
Just three months ago Cyclone Debbie savaged Mackay, leaving water supplies critical and the region in a state of despair as it came to terms with days without power and rising floodwaters.
The clean up has been large and costly, sapping locals of energy as they band together to restore the area to its former glory.
This is ongoing, with some of the region still struggling, but for today at least nothing else mattered as their rugby league heroes made dreams come true.
Queensland winger Dane Gagai knows the area better than most, born and bred in the city before moving to Brisbane to play for the Broncos.
Now at the Newcastle Knights, Gagai was astounded by the amount of people that came to see the Maroons and witnessing all the young faces brought back many memories of his childhood in the region.
"This is where it all started for me. I was born and raised in Mackay. I played my entire junior footy for the Souths Sharks," Gagai said.
"I remember being a young fella and playing barefoot rugby league and then Origin would come around and we would all sit in the lounge and have barbecues watching it.
"To be able to be a part of it now and to come back to where it all began is a dream come true.
"I always dreamed about playing Origin as a young fella and I just hope I inspire some other kids from Mackay or anywhere else in North Queensland."
Mackay boy Dane Gagai embraces his grandfather, Billy.
One keen onlooker had a personal connection with Gagai and it soon showed as he struggled to hold back tears when he saw the 26-year-old approaching.
It was Gagai's grandfather, Billy, a local who has watched Gagai play football since he started walking.
Billy could not hold back the pride he felt for his grandson when they embraced and his love encapsulated the feeling of the street parade.
"It makes me so proud because I'm a proud grandfather. I'm shaking watching Dane come down here," Billy told NRL.com
"I'm excited ... I just can't wait. He's the boy that had a great game during State of Origin. He smashed it.
"This is awesome. It is so beautiful to see so many people.
"In Mackay we are all rugby league fanatics. He used to run alongside his father when he played. He's come so far."
Gagai's journey is only just starting, with the versatile outside back still only midway through his 20s as he prepares to play his sixth Origin.
After suffering setbacks due to off-field issues at the beginning of his NRL career, Gagai is well on his way to greatness as he continues his strong form at club and Origin level.
Queensland coach Kevin Walters spoke fondly of Gagai and the region where he grew up, saying his players would take a lot from the experience.
"You walk outside and you see all the Maroons fans of all different ages and it's great to see," Walters said.
"It's very uplifting, especially from my point of view as coach of the team, but also from a playing point of view. The players are going to get plenty out of this today.
"You can see by the support and what it means to the Queensland people in the regional areas. They don't get to see their NRL players all the time.
"Dane is a great example. He is from Mackay and his journey has been a tough one at different times, but he's made it to the Origin arena and his performances at that level have been fantastic."