‘Out of jail, doing good’: A tale of two Daine Lauries
Daine Laurie knows the journey his name has already taken in rugby league.
Largely without him, sure. But still, part of this proud Bundjalung boy.
A hyped Wests Tigers rookie who says that the story of his name that you likely know already - the one of a dreadlocked Indigenous kid who, overnight, exploded into the NRL, grabbed it by the collar then, poof, disappeared - belongs to the uncle on mum's side he grew up watching, cheering, even hoping to follow.
"And the Daine Laurie," he says, "I'm named after."
"Yeah, although I'm not sure of the story behind it," the 21-year-old says. "Or even if there is one. I think maybe mum just liked the name Daine."
Which is still some yarn.
Especially given 13 years ago, if only for a blink, there were few better stories anywhere in rugby league than Tigers tearaway Daine Laurie.
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That 110kg enforcer who, aged 24, and having resurrected his lot after a brief jail stint, was suddenly raising crowds to their feet with a style of flowing dreads, berserker runs and enough front to threaten no less than Willie Mason.
Yet almost as quickly as he arrived, Laurie was gone, with the Yamba tough man's spiralling quickly catalogued in a series of negative headlines. Despite two separate lifelines from those greatest of believers in rugby league redemption, Phil Gould and Wayne Bennett, he disappeared to the land of wind, ghosts and sporadic bush footy appearances.
But more on that soon enough - first, to the nephew now carrying his name. He's a wiry, NRL rookie from the North Coast town of Iluka who isn't, he insists, going anywhere.
"Because playing NRL is all I've ever wanted," Laurie says. "And I won't give up on that."
Which is one thing to say publicly, of course, and another to prove.
When he attended Maclean High School a few years back, Laurie watched as the Gold Coast Titans signed his cousins, teammates and anyone else from the area with even a whiff of promise. "But not me," he shrugs.
Indeed, even when Penrith stumbled across a YouTube highlights reel of the 60kg livewire sometime later and were impressed enough to sign a deal that within 12 months would see him crowned their Jersey Flegg Player of the Year, still the doubters lingered.
"Because," Laurie says, "people said I was too small."
And people were right.
Even up until last January, when the 82kg wannabe wasn't simply getting beat in Panthers wrestling drills, but "bullied, by everyone".
Yet this is the kid, remember, who isn't giving up. So when COVID hit the world, Laurie hit the gym.
Not only adding six kilos of muscle this past year, or maxing his bench press to 130kg, but earning an NRL debut while also impressing Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire enough to not only be signed for 2022, but moved into the franchise a year early.
So as for where the Daine Laurie name is now headed?
"Go find that YouTube video," says Darrin Heron, another uncle who doubled as his under-18s coach.
"My daughter Mekeely put it together and it's why Penrith signed him.
"Daine may have been the smallest player on the field, but you can see he gives everything."
Ready to challenge Moses Mbye for the Tigers No.1 jersey, Laurie gets his first chance to impress in Saturday's trial against the Roosters in Camden.
Quizzed on the opportunity, manager Matt Desira says this "quiet kid from a wonderful family" is undoubtedly NRL ready, while Laurie adds that said challenge for a first-grade spot is exactly why he pushed to switch clubs early.
Elsewhere, Warwick Brown, another of his junior coaches, says an impending Tigers debut is simply "destiny" for a kid who in under-16s with Grafton Ghosts, also played the next day, and in a separate league, for Clarence Coast under-18s.
"Got player of the year in both groups, too," the coach says.
When you ask Laurie about his skills, persistence, all of it, the fullback talks of trying to mimic another uncle you may know - South Sydney No.6 Cody Walker.
Elsewhere, he also speaks fondly of being inspired by the old man Dion Donnelly, a respected Ghosts Old Boy, and older brother Shaun, who landed in Brisbane during his teens to represent Queensland at rugby union.
"But eventually he came back," Laurie says. "Homesickness."
This youngster knows about that, too.
Not only now, living seven hours drive from home, family and "that feeling of being comfortable".
But ever since Year 11, when his parents took a punt on paying his way to the Gold Coast and famed rugby league nursery Palm Beach Currumbin to earn that contract the Titans weren't offering.
"But not long after arriving, dad crashed his motorbike," Laurie recalls.
"Broke his neck, both legs, punctured a lung; he was lucky to be alive.
"Then days later, one of my friends committed suicide.
"It was heavy. I felt so alone."
So Laurie, he moved home. But not for long, with Panthers officials, on the back of that YouTube reel, soon striking a deal that had him finishing school at Patrician Brothers Blacktown.
"Although I couldn't even knot a tie," Laurie says, recalling his first days at the Catholic college.
"But rooming with other country kids, I kept telling myself, 'If they can hang in here, so can I'."
Which brings us back to that ongoing journey of his name.
A yarn starting in 2008, when uncle Daine first appeared seemingly from the ether.
"I was only young, about nine," this newest Tiger recalls.
"But that's the thing I remember, his time at this club."
And for the grand total of 20 games, it was some ride.
So unforgettable that even now, over a decade on, the rookie still "gets asked all the time about being related".
Yet if the rise to fame for Laurie Snr was rapid, so too a decline that, after falling out quickly with Tigers coach Tim Sheens, saw him sacked, signed by Penrith, moved to France, returned, sacked again for drinking on a flight to Auckland then switch to bush footy, enjoy a second resurrection with Newcastle - and Wayne Bennett - before finally disappearing by season's end with no addition to his 23 first-grade games.
In 2017, Laurie also reappeared briefly in the headlines when news outlets reported his involvement in an alleged Nambucca Heads shooting incident. Eventually convicted of discharging a firearm with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, the former NRL tough served three years' jail. He was released late last year.
"But he's now back up near Grafton, doing real well," his nephew says.
"Unfortunately I didn't get to see him last time I was home, but he's doing really good."
Which again continues that incredible journey his name is taking.
A yarn made, in part, without him, but one to which this rookie remains indelibly linked.
"So I know Dane Laurie, it's already written on the Tigers honour board," he says.
"But now I want to make sure it gets written again."
Originally published as 'Out of jail, doing good': A tale of two Daine Lauries