Jarryd Hayne’s broken American dream
HE WAS talented, ambitious and moral, born to a single mum at a southwest Sydney housing commission, and determined to make America sit up and listen.
But the "Hayne Plane" flew too close to the sun, and the golden child risks going up in smoke.
It was his ill-fated entrance into the notoriously hard-drinking, troubled heart of the San Francisco 49ers that marked the start of a bitter decline in luck for Australia's beloved, Jarryd Hayne.
Yesterday, the NRL star learnt he will be fighting a sordid and humiliating rape trial in 18 months' time, after sky-high hopes for his NFL career were shattered. At 30, he has precious few years left to shine on the rugby field.
Hayne desperately wanted to play in the glamorous American football league, but was deemed ineligible for the college football system because he didn't have a HSC. After finally achieving his dream at the age of 26, his subsequent failure to set the league alight was a crushing disappointment - and the civil rape claim was the final insult.
As the news emerged that Hayne would face court and have his name dragged further through the mud, people who lived and worked in his former world offered fresh insight to news.com.au about his life in San Jose, California.
The luxury San Jose apartment block where Hayne lived with a flatmate boasts wide balconies and a pool surrounded by sun loungers, opposite a leafy park and basketball court where he used to shoot hoops. At $3275 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, and $4585 for a two bed like the one he shared, it is considered good value.
Average monthly rent in the Bay Area is almost double the US average at $3400, and some landlords charge $6500 unless you sign a year's lease, one resident explains.
The building is filled with wealthy young tech workers and their families, with expensive vehicles including a Rolls Royce in the car park underneath.
Residents only dimly remember the fleeting 49ers star. One fan told news.com.au he used to see Hayne in the lift when he lived in the fashionable apartment block in 2015, but the Niners' Aussie rookie never smiled or said hello.
"He was a rugby player, right? Athletes are kind of targets for that stuff," said a young father-of-two living on Hayne's old floor.
The once clean-cut Hillsong churchgoer, whose life has taken a sharply different turn since he arrived in the US brimming with excitement, three long years ago.
Hayne wasn't due to play the team's match against the Cincinnati Bengals on December 21, 2015, but everyone was hoping for a win against a side they should have been able to beat. The 49ers suffered a crushing 24-14 defeat.
Hayne and a few friends ended up drinking into the night at San Jose's Willow Den, a rough-and-ready dive bar open until 2am, and more down-market than the establishments his teammates typically frequented.
The dim bar is filled with shuffleboard tables and giant Jenga, its ceiling is plastered with dollar bills scrawled with names and epithets such as "F**k" and "Megan whore".
"The 49ers don't come here," shrugs customer Casey, who often visits the bar after work. "It's a little bit low class for these guys."
The project manager is buying rounds of dangerous "green tea" shots for everyone around him as rock songs blare from the jukebox on a Tuesday evening. "This is your classic dive bar," he tells news.com.au.
It's where Hayne met a young woman in her mid-20s, went back to his apartment with her in an Uber and she claims violently raped her while she was blackout drunk.
He "unequivocally" and "vehemently" denies the allegation.
The woman known as JV, who worked at a restaurant and knew one of Hayne's friends, says she had "minimal interaction" with the 49ers player at the bar that night. Court documents filed by her legal team state her friends "had never seen [the young woman] so intoxicated".
According to court documents, she says she has a dim recollection of the lift at Hayne's apartment, then being on the bed and hearing his voice behind her saying "no kissing" before feeling a sharp pain in her vagina and falling face down on to the mattress. She says she was a virgin at the time of the alleged attack.
Hayne says they engaged in sexual activity that was consensual, but not sexual intercourse. He says Ms V followed him out of the bar and ordered the Uber back to his home, and chatted to his flatmate before she left the apartment the next day.
Ms V says she woke that morning in bedsheets soaked in her blood. Hayne's clothes were in the room but he was gone. She grabbed his underwear, thinking it might serve as evidence later. But she didn't report the incident until five months later, in April 2016, when she visited her doctor to report continuing pain in her vagina.
She says she waited because she feared she wouldn't be believed.
Her doctor contacted San Jose Police, who began investigating but decided not to press charges because of a reported lack of evidence. The material they collected will be re-examined ahead of the trial in January 2020.
THE NOTORIOUS NINERS
"That doesn't sound like something he would do," said one rugby fan living at Hayne's old apartment in San Jose.
It's a sentiment that was echoed by his lawyer Mark Baute at a case management hearing in the city on Wednesday afternoon local time. "I like Jarryd Hayne and look forward to proving his innocence in court," said Mr Baute, who successfully defended NBA Derrick Rose in a rape trial.
Ms V's lawyer Micha Star Liberty said her client was still seeking therapeutic help after the alleged rape, and taking it "day-by-day" as she "processes her experiences".
So where did it all go so badly for Australia's great hope?
The "Niners" already had a chequered reputation, with 13 team members arrested since 2012 on charges including drink driving, illegal possession of a weapon, hit and run, disorderly conduct, sexual battery, driving under the influence and vandalism.
Defensive tackle Ray McDonald was arrested on suspicion of domestic abuse after police said his pregnant fiancee showed "visible injuries" of sexual abuse. Charges were dropped in April 2017, when the alleged victim exercised her legal right not to press charges.
A group of Niners all lived in the affluent San Jose neighbourhood of Silver Creek, 15 minutes' drive from Hayne's home. Police were regularly called to their wild late night parties, and tight end Aldon Smith drove into tree at 7am one Thursday morning.
Future 49ers teammate Reggie Bush had said of Hayne's game in 2014: "He actually looks like an NFL running back. Looks like he could come play with us tomorrow."
Back in Australia, the Hayne Plane hype was electric, news outlets brimming with excitement over every move of the boy from Minto done good. In the US, eyebrows were raised in anticipation of what the cheeky Aussie could do.
Hayne was finally signed as a running back in March 2015 on a cool $2.1 million three-year contract as an undrafted free agent. The pressure was unfathomable.
He made his debut at the 49ers Levi's Stadium in September 2015 for the first week of the NFL season, but he struggled to master the complex and ever-changing defensive schemes. By October 31, he was dropped from the roster and signed with the practice squad, on a fraction of his previous salary.
He was forced to hustle Urban Flat and Airbnb to secure a good deal on his apartment, but insisted he was not about to give up.
By late November, the 49ers had experienced one of the worst off-seasons of any team in recent memory. One NFL commentator wrote that the team's worst enemy "isn't the Seahawks, it's alcohol".
THE TUMULTUOUS AFTERMATH
Hayne's life has been a whirlwind since California. In late December 2015, he returned to the 53-man roster, but retired from the sport the following May.
He decided to take another punt - playing international rugby for Fiji's Rugby Sevens side at the Rio Olympics. But while he played a few games, Hayne wasn't selected for the final squad, which won a gold medal.
Around this time, he met Australian Amellia Bonnici, reportedly on Instagram, and the pair started dating. Hayne, then playing for the Gold Coast Titans, was shocked when the 25-year-old announced not long after they met that she was pregnant and expecting his child by the end of the year.
He moved her into his Gold Coast apartment and their daughter, Beliviah Ivy, was born in December 2016. The following November, Hayne confirmed he would leave the Titans and return to Sydney after Fiji's World Cup exit on compassionate grounds, to be closer to his girlfriend and child, who were now living in Forster near family.
He reportedly took a hefty pay cut to return to his old club, Parramatta Eels, hoping to get his head down and rebuild his reputation. But the civil suit for alleged rape will do nothing to help him focus on rebuilding his rugby league career, with a jury trial scheduled for January 2020 unless a steelement can be reached before then. It could be an ugly fight.
Like Mr Baute, Ms V's lawyers are experienced in the field. Ms Liberty works mainly with sexual assault victims, while John Clune represented a woman who accused Kobe Bryant of rape. The case was settled out of court.
Hayne never wanted to be remembered among those American athletes.
"Our whole family has been torn apart by this - we're going through hell," his stepmother Tamara Regan, wife of his rugby league playing father Manoa Thompson, told The Daily Telegraph after the allegations emerged in December.
In April, Hayne was asked by NRL.com for his advice for 20-year-old Jordan Mailata after the former South Sydney Rabbitohs under-20s player was selected by Philadelphia Eagles.
"You can go into the NFL and understand a little bit of what you're going to learn, but until you sit down in a room and see the playbook, the defensive schemes, it just blows your mind," Hayne said.
"Not only do you have to learn all the schemes, but you also change them every week. And it's not one of those things where you get time to learn and change them; it's like 'BOOM we're doing this now,' and you're expected to know it.
"I think he needs to understand you have to expect the unexpected, that's the biggest thing."
Hayne was the hero Australia wanted. He has found fame, but it's not the story he dreamt of for all those years.