Wallace and Arrow made for Origin
This is a State of Origin story. Yet it's more a story about mateship, about family … and about toughness. The toughness you need to succeed at this level.
It involves Titans duo Jarrod Wallace and Jai Arrow who left the Gold Coast as teenagers to the Broncos, returned home a year apart looking to ignite their careers and within months were chosen to play Queensland.
Next week they do it together for the first time.
Arrow's childhood hero Gorden Tallis, who held that mantle because Arrow liked how tough and aggressive he was, says Arrow has the makings of becoming the Maroons' Trevor Gillmeister or Gary Larson figure. In other words, hard as nails, reliable, low key and consistent.
Wallace's boyhood hero was his dad, Craig, a NSW bush footy legend who played until two years ago when he was 45.
He says his old man is the toughest bloke he knows.
But Arrow is starting to move towards being a close second.
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Jarrod recalls playing A-grade at Sawtell near Coffs Harbour, and later on the Gold Coast when they moved there nine years ago. Younger brothers Logan and Cooper did the same before their old man hung up his boots.
Jarrod can rattle off anecdote after anecdote about Craig's toughness but his favourite is the day a Coffs Harbour representative side played a trial against Melbourne Storm. One of the big Storm forwards crashed right through the locals' defence and scored from long range.
From the kick-off, he charged onto the ball to do the same again.
"You could see this bloke winding up to do the same thing and our guys retreat a bit – with the exception of Dad," Wallace said in a Players Voice interview.
"He came flying out of the line and hit the guy that hard it backflipped him.
"The crowd lost it. I was jumping around losing my shit in the grandstand with Mum shouting 'sit down, sit down' the whole time.
"He ran hard, hit hard and played hard all the time. If a tougher player has ever taken the field, I have yet to meet him."
In the Titans' round nine clash with the Raiders, Wallace saw an example of toughness that he'll also talk about for a long while.
Arrow spiraled back after copping an accidental elbow as he tried to stop a ferocious run by Canberra giant Junior Paulo. He was in a terrible state, unable to breathe properly and in a pit of pain.
"His rib cage was moved so badly that it pushed on his spleen and kidney," said Wallace as he prepares for his third Origin game for the Maroons.
"He wanted to stay on there, that shows how tough he is. He literally couldn't walk.
"For a 24-year-old at 100kg to do that; he's built for this game [Origin] and I can't wait to watch him."
Arrow also grew up in NSW for a while too, at Greystanes in Sydney's west until his family moved to the Gold Coast when he was six.
His father Ray was a tough lock or sometimes five-eighth for Greystanes in the Parramatta A-grade competition. When Jai started to play, he was a supportive father but a tough critic, sparse with his praise because – in a team sport – he didn't want his son thinking he was above the others.
Yet he could not hold back his pride when he learned that Jai had fulfilled his State of Origin dream.
"My old man was pretty emotional on the phone to be honest; I think he was going to break out in tears," Arrow said.
"But he's not one to give me anything; growing up as a kid he was pretty harsh on me and never really compliment me but I can't thank them enough.
"My mum and dad have been a massive influence on me and it's pretty surreal at the moment."
Wallace is close to his parents too. With a bond of trust and mutual resilience between him and Craig.
"I had a chat to him before my debut last year and he asked how I was feeling and as he was telling me to be calm about it. But you could tell in his voice he was nervous and excited, just how I was feeling," Wallace said.
"At times it's like we have this twin connection; when I'm feeling something, he is feeling that too.
"Of course when you go into big games you think of the things he taught me and what I learned from just watching him.
"Origin is made on mentally tough moments, it's not just about who's got all the talent in the world.
"There are guys like GI (Greg Inglis) who are freaks that who are also mentally tough and that's why he's our skipper and deserves to be.
"But at the end of the day Origin is built on mentally tough players. Growing up around footy and playing with dad, he taught me that and hopefully I can take that into my Origin game next week.
"In Origin they hit harder; they run harder. Everything is more physical, bigger and tougher.
"If you go in with a weak mind, you get found out pretty quickly. So I'm going in there as tough as I can to do the job I want to do, and know I can do, for Queensland."
He has no doubt Arrow will carry the same attitude.
And neither does Arrow's hero Tallis.
"He ticks the box when it comes to toughness alright," Gordie said. "He's not the biggest guy on the field but he's just tough and resilient.
"To be honest I think he is Queensland's answer; our next Trevor Gillmeister or Gary Larson.
"Watching him play, watching him stand in front of Junior Paulo and when his rib cage moved … he's that tough, he gets belted and just shakes it off.
"Origin is about going through the pain barrier. I've watched him do that regularly at club level.
"But Origin is about going to a new level where no one knows if they're good enough.
"I have my fingers crossed and am pretty confident he will be."